Case referred: Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1980 SC 898
The Court, Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1980 SC 898, summed up the propositions laid down in Jagmohan Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh AIR 1973 SC 947—
(i) The general legislative policy that underlies the structure of our criminal law, principally contained in the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, is to define an offence with sufficient clarity and to prescribe only the maximum punishment therefor, and to allow a very wide discretion to the Judge in the matter of fixing the degree of punishment. With the solitary exception of Section 303, the same policy permeates Section 302 and some other sections of the Penal Code, where me maximum punishment is the death penalty.
(ii) (a) No exhaustive enumeration of aggravating or mitigating circumstances which should be considered when sentencing an offender, is possible. “The infinite variety of cases and facets to each case would make general standards either meaningless ‘boiler plate‘ or a statement of the obvious that no Jury (Judge) would need.” (Referred to McGantha v. California (1971) 402 US 183). (b) The impossibility of laying down standards is at the very core of the criminal law as administered in India which invests the Judges with a very wide discretion in the matter of fixing the degree of punishment.
(iii) The view taken by the plurality in Furman v. Georgia decided by the Supreme Court of the United States, to the effect, that a law which gives uncontrolled and un-guided discretion to the Jury (or the Judge) to choose arbitrarily between a sentence of death and imprisonment for a capital offence, violates the Eighth Amendment, is not applicable in India. We do not have in our Constitution any provision like the Eighth Amendment, nor are we at liberty to apply the test of reasonableness with the freedom with which the Judges of the Supreme Court of America are accustomed to apply “the due process” clause. There are grave doubts about the expediency of transplanting western experience in our country. Social conditions are different and so also the general intellectual level. Arguments which would be valid in respect of one area of the world may not hold good in respect of another area.
(iv) (a) This discretion in the matter of sentence is to be exercised by the Judge judicially, after balancing all the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the crime. [The court in Bachan Singh case reviewed this proposition and made certain changes–(it has been given at the end)]
(iv) (b) The discretion is liable to be corrected by superior courts. The exercise of judicial discretion on well-recognised principles is, in the final analysis, the safest possible safeguard for the accused.
In view of the above, it will be impossible to say that there would be at all any discrimination since crime as crime may appear to be superficially the same but the facts and circumstances of a crime are widely different. Thus considered, the provision in Section 302, Penal Code is not violative of Article 14 of the Constitution on the ground that it confers on the Judges an un-guided and uncontrolled discretion in the matter of awarding capital punishment or imprisonment for life.
(v) (a) Relevant facts and circumstances Impinging on the nature and circumstances of the crime can be brought before the Court at the pre-conviction stage, notwithstanding the fact that no formal procedure for producing evidence regarding such facto and circumstances had been specifically provided. When counsel addresses the Court with regard to the character and standing of the accused, they are duly considered by the Court unless there is something in the evidence itself which belies him or the Public Prosecutor challenges the facts.
(v) (b) It is to be emphasised that in exercising its discretion to choose either of the two alternative sentences provided in Section 302, Penal Code, “the Court is principally concerned with the facts and circumstances Whether aggravating or mitigating, which are connected with the particular crime under inquiry. All such facts and circumstances are capable of being proved in accordance With the provisions of the Indian Evidence Act in a trial regulated by the Cr. P. C. The trial does not come to an end until all the relevant facts are proved and the counsel on both sides have an opportunity to address the Court. The only thing that remains is for the Judge to decide on the guilt and punishment and that is what Sections 306(2) and 309(2), Cr. P. C. purport to provide for. These provisions are part of the procedure established by law and unless it is shown that they are invalid for any other reasons they must be regarded as valid. No reasons are offered to show that they are constitutionally invalid and hence the death sentence imposed after trial in accordance with the procedure established by law is not unconstitutional under Article 21.
The court, in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab AIR 1980 SC 898, accepted all the propositions mentioned above in their complete sense except iv(a) and v(b)- and made certain changes.
With respect to proposition(iv) (a)-
No. (iv) (a) postulates that according to the then extant CrPC both the alternative sentences provided in Section 302, Penal Code are normal sentences, and the Court can, therefore, after weighing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the particular case, in its discretion, impose either of those sentences. This postulate has now been modified by Section 354(3) which mandates the Court convicting a person for an offence punishable with death or, in the alternative with imprisonment for life or imprisonment for a term of years, not to ins-pose the sentence of death on that person unless there are “special reasons” – to be recorded – for such sentence. The expression “special reasons” in the context of this provision, obviously means “exceptional reasons” founded on the exceptionally grave circumstances of the particular case relating to the crime as well as the criminal. Thus, the legislative policy now writ large and clear on the face of Section 354(3) is that on conviction for murder and other capital offences punishable in the alternative with death under the Penal Code, the extreme penalty should be imposed only in extreme cases.
Under Section 354(3) the Court is required to state the reasons for the sentence awarded and in the case of sentence of death, special reasons are required to be stated. It would thus be noticed that awarding of the sentence other than the sentence of death is the general rule now and only special reasons, that is to say, special facts and circumstances in a given case, will warrant the passing of the death sentence. The court didn’t lay down any list of special reason and said that it is unnecessary nor is it possible to make a catalogue of the special reasons which may justify the passing of the death sentence in a case of the death sentence in a case.
With respect to proposition No. (v) (b) —
In the portion (b), it is emphasised that while making choice of the sentence under Section 302, Penal Code, the Court is principally concerned with the circumstances connected with the particular crime under inquiry. Now, Section 235(2) provides for a bifurcated trial and specifically gives the accused person a right of pre-sentence hearing, at which stage, he can bring on record material or evidence, which may not be strictly relevant to or connected with the particular crime under inquiry, but nevertheless, have, consistently with the policy underlined in Section 354(3) a bearing on the choice of sentence. The present legislative policy discernible from Section 235(2) read with Section 354(3) is that in fixing the degree of punishment or making the choice of sentence for various offences, including one under Section 302, Penal Code, the Court should not confine its consideration “principally” or merely to the circumstances connected with particular crime, but also give due consideration to the circumstances of the criminal.
Revised iv(a) and v(b) proposition-
iv(a) The normal rule is that the offence of murder shall be punished with the sentence of life imprisonment. The court can depart from that rule and impose the sentence of death only if there are special reasons for doing so. Such reasons must be recorded in writing before imposing the death sentence
v(b) While considering the question of sentence to be imposed for the offence of murder under Section 302 Penal Code; the court must have regard to every relevant circumstance relating to the crime as well as the criminal. If the court finds, but not otherwise, that the offence is of an exceptionally depraved and heinous character and constitutes, on account of its design and the manner of its execution, a source of grave danger to the society at large, the court may impose the death sentence.
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