Standards applied in death sentence cases


11:18 AM

1 min read
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President Murmu has rejected a mercy petition filed by Pakistani national Mohammed Arif who was sentenced to death for the December 22, 2000 terrorist attack at the Red Fort in which three people including two Army jawans were killed.


  • The court has reaffirmed the “rarest of rare” standard in several decisions.
  • The Report of the 262nd Law Commission, published in 2015, recommended the “absolute abolition” of the death penalty “for all crimes other than terrorism-related offences and waging war”

Constituional Provisions:

  • Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) guarantees the right to life and personal liberty.
    • Any deprivation of this right must follow the procedure established by law.
  • Article 72 and Article 161 provide the President and Governors with the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites, or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit, or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence.

Judicial Principles:

  • Rarest of the Rare Doctrine: Established in the landmark case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980), the Supreme Court of India held that the death penalty should only be awarded in the "rarest of the rare" cases, where the alternative option is unquestionably foreclosed.
  • Proportionality and Balancing Aggravating and Mitigating Circumstances: Courts must weigh aggravating circumstances (such as the nature and gravity of the crime) against mitigating circumstances (such as the socio-economic background, age, or mental condition of the offender) before deciding on the death penalty.
  • Judicial Review and Confirmation: The death sentence pronounced by a trial court must be confirmed by the High Court.
    • Further, the Supreme Court can review the case, and there are provisions for mercy petitions to the President and Governors.

Statutory Provisions:

  • Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860: Specifies offences that are punishable by death, including murder (Section 302), treason (Section 121), terrorism-related offences (Section 121A), and others.
  • Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973: Provides procedural safeguards for the accused in death penalty cases, such as the requirement for the sentence to be confirmed by a higher court (Section 366) and the right to appeal (Section 374).

Special Laws: Certain special legislation, such as the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), also prescribe the death penalty for specific crimes.

Q1: What is the pardoning power of the Indian President?

Article 72 of the Constitution of India bestows upon the President of the Indian Union a unique function called the “pardoning power”. A pardon is an act of grace and cannot be deemed as a matter of right.

Source: Red Fort case: Standards for awarding death & President’s ‘mercy’ power