Death Penalty: Definition and Meaning

If someone commits a crime, he or she is punished by law; however, the quantum of punishment is decided by the court based on the degree or intensity of the crime and the intention of the offender. The punishments for some crimes are merely a few thousand rupees in fines (monetary punishment) or a few months in jail or, in some cases, both. But if the degree of crime is higher, such as murder or rape and murder, etc., then there are chances that the offender may get capital punishment or the death penalty.

What is the Death Penalty?

Death Penalty is often called Capital Punishment which is an act of lawfully killing a human being for a heinous crime committed by him. The death sentence is awarded by the courts to the person who has been accused of an offence. It is the lawful hanging of an accused but whenever any person is awarded the Death Penalty for a serious offence committed by him the courts in India the courts are also bound by section 354(5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. This aforementioned section makes it mandatory for all the courts to mention that the accused must be ‘hanged till death’.

Likewise, “Death Penalty” can be stated as ‘sentence of death pronounced by court of law’ as provided under Merriam-Webster. So it is generally given by the courts of law throughout the world except in some of the countries which didn’t establish this procedure. Various countries in the world use it as a method of Punishment. India uses the Death Penalty as a penalizing method as provided by law. Besides India, many developed countries like the United States and developing ones like Libya and Iran, exercise this as a penalization.

Since human rights have received a lot of attention in recent decades, some human rights activists and human rights organisations have viewed the death penalty as a cruel and inhuman way of penalization. Amnesty International has stated that it is a clear infringement of human rights and has advocated for its abolition. Several debates have taken place regarding whether this penalization should be scrapped or retained. Regarding the abolishment, there are various retentionist and abolitionist viewpoints.

Offences for which the Death Penalty can be Awarded in India

There are various offences for which the Death Penalty can be awarded by courts. Some of these offences covered under the Indian Penal Code are murdering someone, doing rape, act of Dacoity with murder, act of Criminal Conspiracy, etc.

The following table illustrates the types of crime for which death penalty is awarded:

Provisions of IPCNature of Crime
121 of IPCTreason for waging war against Government of India
132 of IPCAbetment of mutiny actually committed
194 of IPCGiving or fabricating false evidence with intent to procure a conviction of a capital offence
195A of IPCThreatening or inducing any person to produce or falsify evidence resulting in the conviction and death of an innocent person
302 of IPCMurder
305 of IPCAbetment of suicide of a minor or insane person
307 (2) of IPCAttempted murder by a serving life convict
364A of IPCKidnapping for ransom
376A of IPCRape and injury which causes death or leaves a woman in a persistent vegetative state
376AB of IPCRape of a child below 12 years of age
376DB of IPCGang rape of a child below 12 years of age
376E of IPCCertain repeat offences in the context of rape
396 of IPCDacoity with murder – in cases where a group of five or more individuals commit dacoity and one of them commits murder in the course of that crime, all members of the group are liable for the death penalty.

Who can Award the Death Penalty?

In India, the courts of the sessions can award the Death Penalty, but it is the subject of confirmation by the High Court. Once the Death Penalty is either confirmed or awarded by the high court, the accused can appeal in the Supreme Court. Once the accused are denied or exhausted of his all rights to appeal, then he can file mercy petition to the President of India. Under Article 72 of the Indian Constitution, the President has power to pardon or convert death penalty into life imprisonment. While exercising these powers the President of India can pardon, suspend, cancel, commute, etc. the sentence of the accused.

Retentionist’s View on Death Penalty

With respect to the retentionist view, the Death Penalty must be retained in our country. There are various arguments which are put forth in favour of keeping the Death Penalty as a way of penalising. It is argued that it leaves a deterrent effect on society which helps to curb the offences. Besides that, it provides justice to the victim and that one who killed someone must be killed. Some also say that it is a cost-effective way of providing justice as compared to Life imprisonment.

Debate on Death Penalty

There are two views that one supports the death penalty and other one claims it inhuman and hence it should be abolished.

Abolitionist’s View on Death Penalty

There are various contentions against the award of the Death Penalty. Firstly, it is argued that it is an infringement of Human rights and article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The sentencing of an innocent person is also one of the arguments. Besides that, it is also argued that there is no notable restraining effect of the Death Penalty as the number of offences is increasing day by day. It is regarded as an inhumane arbitrary process by those who support the abolition of the Death Penalty.

Abolishing the Death Penalty in India

In India there is a huge difference in the number of Death punishments being imposed and their execution, it cannot be denied that this penalization somehow fails to act as a discouragement and restraint due to delays. Also, due to the current wave of human rights, the criminals get the advantage of delays, and it is the victim who suffers. So if this punishment gets abolished in India, then there will not be much of an issue. Also, it can be replaced with any other penalization that is suitable for grievous offences and that doesn’t give delayed results. Abolishing the death sentence and replacing it with any other way of penalization, like it is done in the United States, can help to curb the ratio of such crimes. Because hardened criminals do not fear death, they must be punished in such a way that they will regret their crimes for the rest of their lives.


In a nutshell, it can be said that the Death Penalty as a way of penalization has lost its value as a deterrent punishment. In India, there are also delays in the execution of this penalization. So it can be abolished or courts can stop using it in practice like some nations of the world. Rather than the Death Penalty the accused can be provided life imprisonment, rigorous imprisonment accompanied by solitary confinement, etc. It can be retained for offences involving a threat to the sovereignty and security of the nation like in the case of terrorism. The Death Penalty can be an escape for hardened criminals. So punishment must be the one which leaves a discouraging effect.


Q1. Which countries have stopped using the Death Penalty as a way of penalization?

Ans. Majority of countries have abolished it either for all crimes or for some crimes. Countries like France, Kazakhstan, Fiji, Latvia, etc. have abolished it for all crimes while countries like Brazil, Peru, Israel, etc. have abolished for some general crimes.

Q2. Which countries have retained awarding the Death Penalty?

Ans. There are few countries which have retained the Death Penalty as a way of penalization. These countries are India, China, the United States of America, Libya, Iran, etc. Besides that, there are few countries which have retained it as a punishment but have abolished it in practice like Sri Lanka, South Korea, Tonga, Kenya, etc.

Q3. Which was the recent execution in India as of the year 2022?

Ans. In the year 2020, the four accused in the Nirbhaya case were hanged in March which was the last execution in India.

Q4. Can the governor pardon the sentence of the Death Penalty?

Ans. The pardoning powers of governor has been given under article 161 of the Indian Constitution.

Q5. What is the meaning of a Black warrant?

Ans. The Black warrant is also called a Death Warrant which is issued by courts to authorise the officer who is in-charge of jail to conduct the execution of the convict.

Updated on: 01-Feb-2023


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