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In a 2:1 majority verdict, Justices Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta upheld validity of death sentence while Justice Kurian Joseph gave a dissenting opinion

The Supreme Court, on Wednesday (November 28), upheld the validity of the death sentence in law with a 2:1 majority verdict even as the three-judge bench unanimously decided to commute the sentence of a death row convict to life imprisonment.

The top court’s ruling by a bench of Justices Kurian Joseph, Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta came in an appeal filed by Chhannu Lal Verma who had been sentenced to death by the trial court (later upheld by the high court) for a triple murder committed back in 2011 in Chhattisgarh.

Although the three judges agreed on commuting Verma’s death sentence to life imprisonment, they differed on the larger question of the validity of the death penalty laid out in the Indian Penal Code.

Justice Kurian Joseph cited the Law Commission’s 262nd report to state that the death penalty has failed to act a deterrent for the heinous crimes that are punishable by it. He also quoted arguments made by number of countries that have abolished the death penalty and noted that often trials are subject to public opinion and collective demand and that investigating agencies mount pressure on the courts by invoking passions and public sentiments (to award death penalty to an accused).

However, Justice Joseph’s opinion on the validity of the death sentence was not shared by Justices Deepak Gupta and Hemant Gupta. Reading the majority verdict, Justice Deepak Gupta said that the validity of death sentence had been upheld in earlier rulings given by the Supreme Court and that there was no present need to review the precedents set in Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab (1980) and Macchi Singh vs. State of Punjab (1983) verdicts. These two judgments had laid down that the death penalty was not violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Further Macchi Singh verdict had also laid down the five categories of the “rarest of rare cases” under which death penalty could be awarded to an accused.

— India Legal Bureau

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