They should also consider mitigating factors in favor of life imprisonment, Bench says.
Do not prescribe the death penalty considering only the horror of the crime, also consider factors that may help the prisoner save his life, the Supreme Court told judges nationwide in a verdict on Wednesday.
In a ruling that could become an important precedent for the case against the death penalty, the Supreme Court says trial judges should not be swayed in favor of the death penalty simply because of the appalling nature of the crime and its negative impact on society. They should also consider mitigating circumstances in favor of life imprisonment.
Judgment by a three-judge bench headed by Judge AM Khanwilkar came in the case of the rape and murder of a seven-year-old child. The court commuted the convict’s death sentence to life imprisonment.
“Preservation of human life”
Judge Dinesh Maheshwari, author of the judgment, referred to the evolution of the principles of penology. Justice Maheshwari said that penology had developed to accommodate the philosophy of “preservation of human life”.
Judge Maheshwari noted that although capital punishment has a deterrent effect and a “response to society’s call for appropriate punishment in appropriate cases”, the principles of penology have “evolved to balance the other obligations of society, i.e. the preservation of human life, whether defendants, unless termination thereof is unavoidable and serves other societal causes and the collective conscience of the society “.
Today, the justice system has options other than the death penalty, the court noted.
These could include life imprisonment without remission or early release, especially when it comes to heinous crimes. These are intermediate approaches designed through the delicate balance of the judicial process in cases involving heinous crimes.
In the current case, the top court noted that the two lower courts made “intense remarks” on the horror of the crime but failed to carefully consider the mitigating factors in favor of the defendant before sentencing him to dead.
Judge Maheshwari said the courts should have “duly considered the equally relevant aspect regarding mitigating factors before coming to the conclusion that the option of any punishment other than capital punishment was ruled out”.
Judge Maheshwari said that if the courts had looked, they would have found hope for the convict’s reform in the extenuating circumstances of the convict, who was not a hardened criminal, had a spotless prison conduct, a young family and an elderly father.
“It would be dangerous to treat this case as falling into the ‘rare of the rare’ category,” Judge Maheshwari noted.