The Annual Death Penalty Report 2023

The Annual Death Penalty Report 2023

News: According to the Annual Death Penalty Report 2023, appellate Courts in India - SC and all the HCs together - confirmed only one death sentence in 2023.

What is Death Penalty/Capital Punishment?
• Capital punishment, also called the death penalty, is the execution of an offender sentenced to death after conviction by a court of law of a criminal offence. It is the highest penalty awardable to an accused. Generally, it is awarded in extremely severe cases of murder, rapes, treason etc.

Key Highlights:
• The Report (‘Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics 2023’) was prepared by Project 39A, a criminal justice programme linked with the National Law University, Delhi.
• Only one death sentence was confirmed by a High Court (the Karnataka HC in a murder case) in 2023, marking the lowest rate by the appellate courts since 2000.
• The 2023 year also saw the Supreme Court not confirming any death sentences. Only 2nd instance since 2021.
• There has been a 15% decrease in the rate of disposal of death penalty confirmation proceedings at the HCs in 2023. 57 death penalty cases were disposed of in 2023, compared with 68 cases in 2022.
• The significant decline in the case disposal rate of death penalties is attributed to the high death row population in the country.
• Similar to the last five years, the majority of death penalty cases in trial courts involved crimes related to sexual offences. Of the 120 death sentences imposed by trial courts, more than 50% were for homicidal rapes.

Who can pardon a death sentence in India?
• Under Article 72, the President can grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or
suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence in all cases of death
sentences.

Important Supreme court judgements on Death penalty:
• Jagmohan Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh (1972): The Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in India.
• Rajendra Prasad vs State of Uttar Pradesh (1979): The court held that the death penalty directly affects the life of the people guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. To impose the death penalty, two things are required:
o The special reasons should be recorded for imposing the death penalty in a case.
o The death penalty in India must be imposed only in extraordinary circumstances.
• Bachan Singh vs State of Punjab (1980): The Supreme Court upheld the death penalty, but limited it to the \'rarest of rare cases’.
• Deena Dayal vs Union of India And Others (1983): The court upheld the Death Penalty by ruling that hanging should be painless and \'causes no greater pain than any other known method\'.

What is the rarest of rare case?
• The “rarest of rare” doctrine is a judicial principle used in India to decide whether a criminal should be awarded the death penalty. This doctrine is applied when a crime is so heinous and shocking that it shakes the collective conscience of society.
• The ‘rarest of rare doctrine’ can be divided into two sub-parts: Aggravating circumstances and

Mitigating circumstances:
o In case of aggravating conditions, the Judge may impose the death penalty.
o For Mitigating conditions, the Bench will not grant the death penalty under the rarest of rare cases.
• The most common cases involving significant death row convicts are terrorism and rape-cum-murder cases. For example, the Nirbhaya case was considered a “rarest of rare” case because it violated the collective conscience.

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