Criminal LawMurder

Examining rarest of the rare case in imposing death penalty


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Rarest of the rare case is the principle enshrined in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab[1]which limits the vast discretion of the court in imposing death penalty. Death as a highest punishment was thrown from a general rule to only in exceptional circumstances and that too after recording special reason for imposing such a highest punishment which cannot be reverted back in any circumstances after its execution. The phrase “rarest of the rare” case still remains to be defined while the concern for human life, the norms of a civilised society and the need to reform the criminal has engaged the attention of the courts. The sentence of death has to be based on the action of the criminal rather than the crime committed. The doctrine of proportionality of sentence vis-a-vis the crime, the victim and the offender has been the greatest concern of the courts.[2]

Mitigating circumstances in awarding death sentence

In Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab,[3]the Supreme Court held that following mitigating circumstances are relevant and must be given weightage in determination of sentence.

  • The age of the accused.
  • The probability that the accused would not commit criminal acts of violence as would constitute a continuing threat to the society.
  • The probability that the accused can be reformed and rehabilitated.
  • That in the facts and circumstances of the case the accused believed that he was morally justified in committing the offence.
  • That the accused acted under the duress or domination of another person.
  • That to condition of the accused showed that he was mentally defective and that the said defect impaired his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct.

Read: The Mandatory Death Penalty

Case 1; In State of Tamil Nadu v. T. Suthanthiraraja,[4]  the former Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was killed under a conspiracy and main accused were granted death penalty, treating it as rarest of the rare cases. Mere fact that one of the convict was woman and mother of a child, who was born while she was in custody, was not considered a ground for not awarding her with the extreme penalty.

Case 2; In State v. Sushil Sharma[5]the accused pursuing political career and being power drunk was living with the deceased, a fellow female leader, without claiming her to be his wife. He had strong motive to get rid of her. He, therefore, not only pumped bullets in her  head but also chopped off her head but also chopped off her limbs and then put the body on tandoor for burning it. it was held that the act of the accused reflected extreme depravity and it would fall within category of rarest of the rare case.

Case 3; In Swamy Sharaddananda @ Murli Manohar Mishra v. State of Karnataka,[6] the death of wife was caused by administering a high dose of sleeping drugs and she was put alive in a wooden box. Subsequently, she was buried in a pit dug outside bedroom. This ghastly killing was committed ion a planned and cold blooded manner but no physical or mental pain was caused to the victim. Hence, case was not considered as rarest of the rare case and death sentence was substituted by life imprisonment for rest of the life.

Case 4; In Prajeet Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar,[7]the accused had committed brutal murder of three children of his landlord and had injured three others, i.e, landlord, his wife, and their eldest son. The accused was in arrears of his fooding and lodging charges and when the landlord demanded payment he committed this inhuman and extremely brutal act in a grotesque, diabolic, revolting or dastardly manner. Convicting the accused and confirming death penalty it was observed that helpless victim have been murdered which is indicative of the fact that the act was diabolic of the superlative degree in conception and cruel in execution and does not fall within any comprehension of the basic humanness which indicate the mindset which cannot be said to be amenable for any reformation. The accused was entitled to death penalty.

Case 5; In State of Tamil nadu v. Rajendran,[8] the accused had strangulated his wife and set his hut on fire with the result wife and two children were burnt and witness had seen him coming out of the hut and standing outside as silent spectator without raising any alarm. It was held that circumstances were indicating that the accused was perpetrator of crime and he was rightly convicted under section 302/436 IPC but death sentence was altered to imprisonment for life as it was not a rarest of the rare case.

[1] (1980) 2 SCC 684

[2] State of U.P. v. Om Prakash, (2015) 4 SCC 467

[3] (1980) 2 SCC 684

[4] AIR 1999 SC 2640

[5] 2007 CrLJ 4008 (Del)

[6] 2008 CrLJ 3911 (SC)

[7] 2008 CrLJ 1680 (Pat)

[8] AIR 1994 SC 3535


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