Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Death Penalty

‘An eye for an eye would leave the whole society blind’- M K Gandhi.

Then what is the solution? How should justice be meted out to the victims and their families in the case of heinous crimes such as murder and rape? Whether the death penalty should be given or not remains an ongoing debate, with people for and against it, with their set of reasons. Many questions arise. Do we really need death penalty? If so, then what are the criteria to be taken in to consideration?

In many cases, the crime is planned with clear precision and executed with cold blooded perfection. In the Dhananjoy Chatterjee case, Chatterjee had raped and murdered a 14 year old girl. The girl was mercilessly battered and raped and finally strangled with the rope of a swing that broke her voice box. Chatterjee was kept in Alipore jail and it took 14 years for the judiciary to pronounce the death sentence. It must have taken great courage and perseverance on the part of the victim’s family to pursue the cause for 14 long years.
The Supreme Court of India ruled in 1983 that the death penalty should be imposed only in “the rarest of rare cases”. Capital crimes for which death penalty can be given are murder, gang robbery with murder, abetting the suicide of a child or insane person, waging war against the government, and abetting mutiny by a member of the armed forces. In recent years the death penalty has been imposed under new anti-terrorism legislation for people convicted of terrorist activities.

Even in the case of such crimes, why capital punishment? The accused can be sentenced to life imprisonment and can be provided with professional counseling. In India life imprisonment is only for 14 years and once the accused is released there is no guarantee that he will not go back to his old ways.

In America the judicial system seems less concerned about the mental state of condemned prisoners and courts are willing to execute them as in the case of the child killer, Westley Alan Dodd, who was mentally unstable. In many other cases the defendant's habits are unlike a normal person. The typical psychopath is often a person of above average intelligence and whose violence is planned, and emotionless. And this kind of tendency is incurable and poses a severe risk to society. In such cases imprisonment is pointless, as it would remove the criminal from the society only for a specific period of time. In such cases when the crime requires planning and the potential criminal has time to think about the possible consequences, death penalty can serve as a deterrent.

In Singapore people know precisely what will happen to them if they are convicted of murder or drug trafficking - this concept is deeply embedded into the sub-consciousness of most of its people, acting as an effective deterrent.

It is difficult to say whether the same set of things will be applicable in the Indian context or not, as there are obvious cultural differences between the two countries.
The most important aspect that needs to be taken into account by the judiciary is that no innocent person should be executed as there is no way of compensating them for this miscarriage of justice. 

However, in case of terrorists, awarding death penalty would not solve the bigger problem. In fact in most cases terrorists prefer the death sentence, as it would help them escape rigorous interrogation. 

In many countries such as America and India, a prisoner can be on a death row for many years awaiting the outcome of numerous appeals. Their chances of escaping execution are better if they are wealthy. They often try to evade the punishment on grounds of false psychiatric disorder or use plea bargaining. 

Such unlawful practices are bound to raise questions regarding the capabilities of judiciary. Therefore, at times death penalty is important to make people realise the value of life and strengthen their faith in the judiciary system.

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