Thursday 2 April 2020

Supreme court guidelines about passing of death penalty

 It is clearly well settled that normal punishment for the offence Under Section 302 Indian Penal Code is life imprisonment but in a case where incident is of "rarest of rare cases" death sentence is to be imposed. It is equally well settled that only special facts and circumstances will warrant passing of death sentence and a just balance has to be struck between aggravating and mitigating circumstances, before the option is exercised. While referring to the earlier cases in the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab MANU/SC/0111/1980 : (1980) 2 SCC 684 and Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab MANU/SC/0211/1983 : (1983) 3 SCC 470 further guidelines are summarised in the judgment in the case of Sushil Murmu MANU/SC/1020/2003 : (2004) 2 SCC 338. Paragraphs 15 and 16 of the judgment read as under:

15. The following guidelines which emerge from Bachan Singh case [MANU/SC/0111/1980 : (1980) 2 SCC 684 : 1980 SCC (Cri.) 580] will have to be applied to the facts of each individual case where the question of imposition of death sentence arises: (Machhi Singh case [MANU/SC/0211/1983 : (1983) 3 SCC 470: 1983 SCC (Cri.) 681] SCC p. 489, para 38)

(i) The extreme penalty of death need not be inflicted except in gravest cases of extreme culpability.

(ii) Before opting for the death penalty the circumstances of the "offender" also require to be taken into consideration along with the circumstances of the "crime".

(iii) Life imprisonment is the Rule and death sentence is an exception. Death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inadequate punishment having regard to the relevant circumstances of the crime, and provided, and only provided, the option to impose sentence of imprisonment for life cannot be conscientiously exercised having regard to the nature and circumstances of the crime and all the relevant circumstances.

(iv) A balance sheet of aggravating and mitigating circumstances has to be drawn up and in doing so the mitigating circumstances have to be accorded full weightage and a just balance has to be struck between the aggravating and the mitigating circumstances before the option is exercised.

16. In rarest of rare cases when the collective conscience of the community is so shocked that it will expect the holders of the judicial power centre to inflict death penalty irrespective of their personal opinion as regards desirability or otherwise of retaining death penalty, death sentence can be awarded. The community may entertain such sentiment in the following circumstances:

(1) When the murder is committed in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting or dastardly manner so as to arouse intense and extreme indignation of the community.

(2) When the murder is committed for a motive which evinces total depravity and meanness e.g. murder by a hired assassin for money or reward or a cold-blooded murder for gains of a person vis-à-vis whom the murderer is in a dominating position or in a position of trust, or murder is committed in the course of betrayal of the motherland.

(3) When murder of a member of a Scheduled Caste or minority community etc. is committed not for personal reasons but in circumstances which arouse social wrath, or in cases of "bride-burning" or "dowry deaths" or when murder is committed in order to remarry for the sake of extracting dowry once again or to marry another woman on account of infatuation.

(4) When the crime is enormous in proportion. For instance when multiple murders, say of all or almost all the members of a family or a large number of persons of a particular caste, community, or locality, are committed.

(5) When the victim of the murder is an innocent child, or a helpless woman or an old or infirm person or a person vis-à-vis whom the murderer is in a dominating position or a public figure generally loved and respected by the community.

22. It is clear from the above judgment that this Court has laid down the guidelines, which are to be considered, in a given case whether capital punishment should be imposed or not. There cannot be any hard and fast Rule for balancing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Each case has to be decided on its own merits. In a "rarest of rare case" capital punishment is to be imposed. To come to conclusion in each case aggravating and mitigating circumstances are to be considered. Further factors like, age of the Accused, possibility of reformation, gravity of the offence etc. are also to be kept in mind.


Criminal Appeal Nos. 1416-1417 of 2017, 300-301 of 2018, 1418-1419 of 2017 and 298-299 of 2018

Decided On: 03.10.2019

 Ishwari Lal Yadav  Vs.  State of Chhattisgarh

Hon'ble Judges/Coram:
Rohinton Fali Nariman, R. Subhash Reddy and Surya Kant, JJ.
Read full judgment here: Click here

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