Most death sentences since 2000: NLU Project 39A’s report on Death Penalty

Most death sentences since 2000: NLU Project 39A’s report on Death Penalty

The tendency of trial courts to impose death sentences is on the rise, if the third edition of the Death Penalty report by Project 39A of the Centre on Death Penalty at National Law University, Delhi  (NLUD) is any indication.

As per the Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics report, the year 2018 witnessed trial courts handing out 162 death sentences, a jump from the 108 awarded in 2017, and the highest number since 2000.

This tendency is also apparent in the legislative changes made last year, whereby the scope for imposition of the death penalty was expanded, particularly in the face of public outcry following the Kathua rape case.

On the other hand, the report notes that the Supreme Court chose to go in a different direction, commuting all but one of the death penalty cases that it heard in 2018.

The annual report provides an overview of the trends discernible as far as Indian courts are concerned, in addition to legislative changes and political developments. Key highlights in this regard include the following.

Imposition of Death Penalty at different levels

  • Trial/Sessions Courts: 162 death sentences awarded, of which two prisoners died while undertrial. The highest number of death penalties were handed out in Madhya Pradesh (22). This is followed by Maharashtra (16) and Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh (15 death sentences each). No death penalties were reported from Jammu and Kashmir in 2018. 426 prisoners remain under the death sentence throughout the country as of December 31, 2018.
  • High Courts: 23 death sentences were confirmed by High Courts in 2018. 58 death sentences were commuted, whereas 10 cases were remitted. In 23 cases, the accused was acquitted.
  • Supreme Court: 12 death penalty cases were heard by the Supreme Court in 2018, of which 11 were commuted to life imprisonment of different kinds. In the remaining 1 case, the Supreme Court confirmed the death penalty for the 3 convicts in the December 2016 Delhi gang-rape case.
  • The report also states that in the last year, President of India Ram Nath Kovind rejected one mercy petition to commute a death sentence. The petition was made in January 2014.

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