SC and Death Penalties: Implications for Judiciary

SC and Death Penalties: Implications for Judiciary

Question: Only 5% of the 1790 death sentences handed down by trial courts in the past 15 years have been confirmed by the SC. Examine the trend for upholding death penalties and its implications for the judiciary.

- Around 5 percent of 1790 death sentences handed down by trial courts in the past 15 years have received confirmation by the SC

- Decades are wasted on death row for prisoners whose conviction is not upheld

- Centre on the Death Penalty of NLU, Delhi recently carried out a study of all death sentences handed down by trial courts in the past decade and a quarter.

- 1512 sentences were decided by the HC while the remaining were awaiting decision or send for retrials

- In just over 25% of the cases, HC acquitted persons who had not been convicted yet awarded death sentence by trial courts

- Of 186 cases which went to the SC, 10% resulted in acquittals and 60% resulted in commutations

- In around 59 of the original 1790 cases or less than 5% were confirmed by the SC

Around 1/3rd of the death sentences provided by trial courts were acquitted at a later stage :

Death sentences by trial courts equalled 13 for J&K, 30 for Assam, 31 for AP, 37 for Uttarakhand, 45 for Chattisgarh, 47 in Rajasthan, 48 in Odisha, 64 in Kerala, 67 in Gujarat, 79 in Delhi and Jharkhand, 88 in TN, 109 in Karnataka, 131 in Maharashtra, 172 in Punjab and Haryana, 285 in Bihar and 460 in UP.

- 30% of the death sentences handed down by trial courts were acquitted

- Trial courts are handing out death sentences which are not upheld at a later date

- HC Ruling on Percentage Confirmed and Acquitted

- Around 4.38% death sentences were confirmed by HC while 48.18% were acquitted by HC

- In UP around 6.72% of the death sentences were confirmed while 30.23% were acquitted

- In TN, the figures were 10.29% and 39.71% while they were 17.33% and 24% in Karnataka

- In Delhi, the same percent of cases were confirmed and acquitted (22.37%)

- In Kerala, 22.64% of the death penalties were upheld while 11.32% were acquitted

- In Maharashtra, the numbers were 38.02% and 19.83%

Implications for Judiciary

- Award of death penalty at trial court stage needs to be reconsidered

- SC’s acquittal and release of inmates on death row indicate earlier verdicts lack substance

- SC and trial courts need to work in tandem to ensure justice is upheld

Facts and Stats

- Of 385 death row inmates interviewed by NLU between 2013 to 2015, largest proportion of prisoners were sentenced to death for murder; 25% of these prisoners were sentenced for a single murder

- Around 23 persons were sentenced under the TADA Act for which the SC is the only court of redressal. Only 6 such sentences were confirmed by SC while for six others, the sentence was enhanced to death
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