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Petitions and safeguards: Understanding the delay convicts’ hanging

Topics Covered: Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.

Petitions and safeguards: Understanding the delay convicts’ hanging

What to study?

For Prelims: Legal procedure to be followed while executing death sentences.

For Mains: Significance and the need for checks and balances, concerns over delay in execution.

Context: The mercy plea filed by one of the four convicts in 2012 Delhi gangrape case was recently rejected by the President. Now, they will be hanged on March 20.

The fresh date is in line with the requirement of a gap of 14 days between the date of rejection of the mercy petition and the date of hanging.

What is the regular legal procedure followed in death penalty cases?

The legal procedure by which a convict is sent to his death is complex, and packed with safeguards.

  1. First, a trial court may pronounce the death sentence only in the “rarest of the rare” cases.
  2. Such a sentence is automatically referred to the High Court for confirmation. A warrant of execution may only be issued once the sentence has been confirmed by the High Court.
  3. Next, the convict has the option of approaching the Supreme Court against the High Court’s decision.
  4. After the Supreme Court’s decision, the convict may file a review petition, and a separate curative petition before the Supreme Court. Both are standard legal processes, meant to rectify egregious errors in judgments.
  5. Thereafter, a mercy petition before the President may be filed. Such a petition is disposed of after a process involving a recommendation from the relevant state government, and sanction from the Home Ministry.
  6. The convict may then approach the Supreme Court again by filing a petition questioning the legitimacy of the President’s decision in the mercy petition.
  7. Finally, the disposal of this petition ends the process, and the death sentence may be executed thereafter.

In conclusion, four separate petitions are available to a convict even after the Supreme Court has confirmed the conviction. 

Need for such checks and balances:

Regular legal procedure in death penalty cases has multiple checksbecause of the realisation of past failures. This has resulted in the addition of an extra layer of protections for death row convicts.

Besides, it is a principle of criminal law that it is preferable to exonerate 10 criminals to condemning even a single innocent.

Insta Link:

Prelims Link:

  1. Various pleas and petitions mentioned – Curative vs Review Petitions
  2. Limitations of Trial Courts in awarding Death Penalty
  3. Power of SC to review its own orders.
  4. President’s powers – w.rt. to Death Penalty

Mains Link:

It is preferable to exonerate 10 criminals to condemning even a single innocent. Critically comment.

Sources: Indian Express.