In 2022, 165 death penalties handed out by trial courts, highest since 2000

As on December 31, 2022 there were 539 prisoners on the death row, making it the highest-ever number since 2016 when only 400 prisoners were facing the death sentence

January 30, 2023 02:04 pm | Updated 02:04 pm IST

File.

File. | Photo Credit: Reuters

In 2022, Sessions Courts in India imposed 165 death sentence penalties, which is the highest number in a single year in two decades, according to a report. However, this rise in figure can be attributed to the “extraordinary sentencing of 38 persons to death in Ahmedabad in a single bomb blast case, representing the largest number of persons sentenced to death in a single case since 2016,” the report said.

This information is part of the ‘Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics 2022’ report released by Project 39A, an advocacy group with the National Law University, Delhi.

Also read | The death penalty and humanising criminal justice

The report went on note that as on December 31, 2022 there were 539 prisoners on the death row, making it the highest-ever number since 2016 when only 400 prisoners were facing the death sentence. “The population on death row has steadily increased over the years, with 2022 representing a 40% increase in the population since 2015,” the report said.

This increase was credited, by the report, to a large number of death sentences imposed by trial courts combined with a low rate of disposal of death penalty cases by appellate courts.

At 100, the State of Uttar Pradesh had the highest number of convicts on death row, of which 32 sentences were imposed in 2022. This was followed by Gujarat (61) and Jharkhand (46). Meanwhile, Gujarat Sessions Courts imposed the highest death penalties in 2022 sentencing 51 convicts to death. In India, only two women were sentenced to death last year, one each by the Sessions Courts in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh.

Sexual violence cases

According to the report cases pertaining to sexual violence continued to dominate the imposition of the death penalty in India. “Cases involving sexual offences constituting the majority (51.28%) of cases in which the death penalty was imposed by trial courts in 2022,” the report said.

Developments in law

The report also focused on highlighting the developments that have taken place in the laws pertaining to/and surrounding cases of death penalty.

Of this, the primary development emerged to be regarding the collection of mitigating circumstances.

The report said that in September 2022, the Supreme Court had acknowledged the inherent gaps within the current sentencing framework. Consequently, in the case of Manoj v. State of Madhya Pradesh, it had “acknowledged the lack of an institutional framework to guide the process of compiling mitigating circumstances before considering the sentence in death penalty cases, and laid down guidelines for the collection of materials relevant to the sentencing process.”

“The Court noted that contextualising the offender’s background using mitigating circumstances was crucial while assessing the probability of reform of the prisoner,” the report added.

The Supreme Court had also laid emphasis on ‘reform’ as a core concept in the death penalty sentencing framework. It had reiterated the duty of the State to present evidence of the ‘improbability of reform’ before any person can be sentenced to death. “The Court noted that the failure to do so would be considered a mitigating circumstance that could result in the commutation of the death sentence,” the report said.

“In light of the Supreme Court’s directions in Manoj v. State of Madhya Pradesh, it is worth mentioning that trial courts imposed death sentences in 2022 in 98.3% death penalty cases without having any materials on mitigating circumstances of the accused and without any State led evidence on the question of reform,” it added.

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