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This article is written by M.S.Sri Sai Kamalini, a fourth-year student currently pursuing B.A.LLB (Hons) from School of law, SASTRA. This is an exhaustive article which deals with the various provisions relating to punishment for committing murder.


Murder is one of the heinous crime which shocks the entire human race. It affects the various aspects of society irrespective of gender. Murder is considered as “malum in se” that is the act that is evil within itself. According to the statistics, 371 people were known to be under death sentence at the end of the year 2018.

Scope of Section 302

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code provides the punishment for murder. According to this Section whoever commits murder is punished with:

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  • Death;
  • Life imprisonment;
  • The convict shall also be liable to fine.

Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code defines murder. According to this section, culpable homicide is considered murder:

  • If the act is done with an intention to cause death.
  • If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury which the offender has the knowledge that it would cause death.
  • If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be in­flicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death.
  • If the person committing the act has that knowledge that it is very dangerous and it might cause death or bodily injury but still commits the act that would amount to murder.

Section 300 also provides exceptions to situations where the culpable homicide is not considered as the murder in certain situations like:

  • When the act is done due to grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of another person who gave the provocation;
  • When the act is done by the public servant who is authorized to do the act in order to promote public justice;
  • When the act is done for defending himself from further harm(right to private defence);
  • When the act is done with the consent of the victim;
  • When the act is a result of a sudden fight.

 If the action does not come within the exception provided under Section 300, then it would be punished according to Section 302. 

Life Imprisonment Rule, Death Sentence an Exception

Bachan Singh’s case is a landmark case. In this case, it was mandated that the death sentence can only be awarded for the rarest of rare cases. This principle was again considered in the case of Raju Jagdish Paswan v. The State of Maharashtra. In this case, the appellant was awarded death sentence by the trial court for committing rape of nine-year old kid. The High Court also awarded the same sentence and on appeal, the Supreme Court reduced the punishment since the death sentence can be awarded only on the rarest scenarios. The Supreme Court held that life Imprisonment is a rule whereas the death sentence is an exception. The Supreme Court did not award the death penalty in this case for various reasons such as: 

  • The murder was not pre-planned.
  • The person was not a continuous threat to society.
  • There was no evidence by the State to prove that the person cannot be reformed and 
  • rehabilitated.
  • The appellant was very young and was only 22 years old while committing the crime.

The basic principle is that human life is very valuable and the death sentence has to be awarded only when it is mandatory and there is no other choice of punishment and also in cases where the range of crime committed is very heinous.

Choice of Sentence

The Court considers various factors before deciding the choice of sentences. The Court chooses the mode of punishment like the death penalty or life imprisonment only after proper investigation and after the crime is proved beyond any reasonable doubts. There are no separate sentencing guidelines in India and the need for the guidelines is mentioned in various cases. In the case of State of Punjab v. Prem Sagar & Ors, it was noted that there is no judiciary driven guidelines for awarding sentences. In the State of Madhya Pradesh v. Bablu Natt, it was said that the choice of sentences depends on the facts and circumstances of the case.

Death Sentence: Legislative Mandate 

The first case which questioned the constitutional validity of the death penalty in the case of Jagmohan Singh v State of Uttar Pradesh where the death penalty was challenged for various reasons like:

  • The death penalty is violative of right to life guaranteed under Article 21.
  • It affects the right to equality guaranteed under Article 14 since awarding the death penalty is in the complete discretion of the Judges.
  • It also affects the various freedoms guaranteed under Article 19.
  • It was also opposed as the law does not provide any mandate to award death sentences.

In the case of Rajendra Prasad v. State of Uttar Pradesh, it was discussed what are the special situations to be considered before awarding the death penalty. The Court held that we should not just consider the nature of the crime but also importance must be given to various factors of criminals in order to award the death penalty. The case of Bachan Singh v State of Punjab, questioned the constitutional validity of Section 302 as it was violative of Article 19. The Court held that it is not violative of Article 19 as there is no freedom to commit murder. In the Bachan Singh case, the court introduced the “rarest of the rare” guidelines. The court quoted that “the expression ‘special reasons‘ in the context of this provision, obviously means ’exceptional reasons‘ founded on the exceptionally grave circumstances of the particular case relating to the crime as well as the criminal”.

Awarding Death Sentence: General Guidelines and Principles provided by the law commission reports

The death sentences are usually awarded to the capital offenses. There are various capital offenses mentioned under the Indian Penal Code, under various sections like:

Sections under the IPC

Related offenses

Section 121

Treason, for waging war against the Government of India

Section 132

Abetment of mutiny actually committed

Section 302 


Section 305

Abetment of suicide by a minor, insane person or intoxicated person 

Section 364A 

Kidnapping for ransom  

Section 396

Dacoity with murder

Section 376A

Rape and injury which causes death or leaves the woman in a persistent vegetative state

The death sentence if awarded should be executed properly after following various procedures mentioned in the Code of Criminal Procedure and the prison manuals. The Court will consider various factors to decide the sentence like:

  • Chance of reformation;
  • Age of accused;
  • The mental unsoundness of the accused;
  • The chance of threat to society in the future because of the accused;
  • The provocation of another person due to which the accused committed the crime;
  • Coercion of another person due to which the accused committed the crime.

Delay in Execution of Death Sentence—An Extenuating Factor

The delay in the execution of death sentence poses a lot of issues in various aspects as it affects the entire process of justice as it affects both the accused and the victim. The Supreme Court in the case of Triveniben v. the State of Gujarat held that only executive delay can be considered violative of Article 21 of the Indian constitution but the judicial delay cannot be considered as violative of Article 21. In the case of T.V Vatheeswaran v. State of Tamil Nadu, the Court held that a delay in the execution of the sentence that exceeded two years would be a violation of procedure guaranteed by Article 21.

However, in the case of Sher Singh v State of Punjab, it was held that the delay can be a ground for invoking Article 21, but there is no binding rule that delay would entitle a prisoner to quash the sentence of death. In the case of Shatrughan Chauhan v Union of India, it was held that various guidelines should be brought out to save the interest of the death row convicts. If there is an inordinate delay in execution, the condemned prisoner is entitled to approach the court requesting to examine whether it is just and fair to allow the sentence of death to be executed.

Conviction of a Pregnant Woman 

Section 416 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 deals with the postponement of the capital sentences on the pregnant woman. According to this Section, if a woman convicted is found to be pregnant, the High Court can:

  • Postpone the execution of the sentence;
  • The High Court can also reduce the sentence to imprisonment for life.

The rights of the unborn child are protected under this Section. The main logic behind this Section is that the child who did not make any mistake shouldn’t be killed. The pregnancy should be proved with proper medical reports and examinations.

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Conviction of a Minor

The children are the future of every nation, so it has to be carefully evaluated before providing them major punishments like the death penalty and life imprisonment for heinous crimes. The conviction should be based on the principles of law of evidence. Justice Lokur, who is the head of the chairman of the Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Committee, stated that “Every as said that juvenile convicts cannot be handed down capital punishment in every case pertaining to heinous crimes such as rape and murder. He stated that every person who is of around 17 years or close to 18 years cannot be awarded the death penalty just because they committed a heinous crime, a proper conclusion must be achieved after going through all the evidence which are related to the case”.

According to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000, the individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime cannot be executed. The Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 replaced the act that was in 2000. The act which was amended allows the persons of the age group from 16 years to 18 years can be tried as adults if they commit any heinous crimes like rape and murder. The main reason for passing the bill was the Delhi rape case, where one of the accused was 17 years old when committing the offence. He was tried separately by the juvenile court and was awarded only three years of imprisonment. This raised a lot of controversies and mandated there should be an amendment in the age of the juveniles who are committing heinous crimes.

Sentence to Co-accused

The persons who are accused of the same crime will be awarded the same amount of punishment. The confession of the co-accused is provided under Section 30 in the Indian Evidence Act. The confession made by the co-accused has a proper evidentiary value and it affects himself and also the other accused. The parity principle ensures that a sentence should be similar to the same offenders or persons convicted of the same crime. This principle ensures fairness and equality while awarding the sentences.

Imprisonment for Life

There are three types of imprisonment namely solitary, rigorous and simple imprisonment. The imprisonment for life means the person is imprisoned for his lifetime. Section 53 of the Indian Penal Code provides that there can be certain types of punishments where imprisonment for life is also an accepted form of punishment. The term transportation for life was replaced with the term imprisonment for life in the year 1955. According to Section 302, imprisonment for life is also a punishment for committing murder. The imprisonment for life is not a violent punishment like the death penalty but it still affects the accused and the society. 

Section 55 of the Indian Penal Code deals with the commutation of sentences in cases of imprisonment for life. According to this Section, it is mentioned that the term of imprisonment must not less than fourteen years or it can be any other term that has to be decided by the appropriate government. There is a misconceived idea that imprisonment for life is only for fourteen years but it is not true in every case. There are certain special situations where the convict is released after fourteen years after proper consideration by the appropriate government, or else his term of imprisonment extends for life.

Punishment for Murder by a Life-Convict

Section 303 of the Indian Penal Code provides that any person who is sentenced with life imprisonment commits murder then the person shall be punished to death. The constitutional validity of this Section was questioned in the case of Mithu v. State of Punjab. This Section was held to be unconstitutional in this case as the court  held that awarding mandatory death penalty for a life convict is unreasonable and arbitrary, for various reasons like:

  • The life convict is already exposed to a lot of stress in the jail premises;
  • There is no justification and intelligible differentia for prescribing a mandatory sentence of death for the offence of murder committed inside or outside the prison by a person who is under the sentence of life imprisonment;
  • A standardised mandatory sentence and that too in the form of a sentence of death fails to take into account the facts and circumstances of each particular case.

Punishment for Culpable Homicide

Culpable homicide is different from murder and the difference is enumerated in the Indian Penal Code. The Indian Penal Code considers the culpable homicide to be genus whereas the murder is a species. To put it in a nutshell, “all murders are culpable homicide but not all culpable homicide are murders”. The intention to cause death is the main difference between murder and culpable homicide. Culpable homicide is not considered as the murder if it comes under any one of the five exceptions mentioned under Section 300. Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code provides various punishments for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The various punishments provided for culpable homicide not amounting to murder are:

  • Imprisonment for life;
  • Imprisonment of either description which may be extended up to ten years;
  • Fine.

Proposals for Reform

There are various reforms which need to be done in order to make these provisions more effective like:

  • There have to be proper uniform judicial guidelines that would make the process of deciding the sentences.
  • The trial can be expeditious also but it has to be noted that all the procedures of the Code of Criminal Procedure are followed.
  • There have to be proper guidelines for awarding death penalty.
  • Various new provisions have to be brought out which would deal with the reformative form of punishments.
  • Section 303 is held to be unconstitutional but still, it is not removed from the act, so there needs to be a necessary amendment in that aspect.


The Court understands the value of life and there are only three executions in recent times. The Court has to award the death penalty only in rare situations if the accused is a threat to the society or else the Court has all the rights to reduce the punishment. It would also be a great advancement if various Courts try to bring out uniform guidelines to award punishment.


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