Capital Punishment – UPSC Ethics


Do you think capital punishment is ethical, even if the convict is sentenced for a gruesome crime belonging to rarest of rare cases? Also examine opinion of the Supreme Court of India regarding death sentences. (200 Words)
It is unethical to provide capital punishment to criminal who understands what wrong he/she has done, but it is totally ethical for convicts who are murderer by their own wish and don’t bother committing murder again and again.
The death penalty, in some cases, must be done. It is very hard for a rational person to argue against this.
There are surely some cases in which the death penalty should be used. Like: Hitler, Stalin, Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi, like others.
But, there is no justification for the death penalty. The death penalty is also a murder, plain and simple.
The discriminatory application of the death penalty is the possibility of mistaken conviction and its ghastly consequences. In a sense, any punishment wrongfully imposed is irrevocable, but none is as irrevocable as death.
So, Capital Punishment is justified only in the case of a fair retribution for a ravage crime committed.
Supreme Court’s Precedent since 1980s:
    1. According to the court, murderer who murders of people from vulnerable social groups should be considered for capital punishment.
    2. Multiple murders – where many members of a family or group are killed – also merit the death penalty.
    3. The murder of a wife in order to marry another woman with whom a man is “infatuated” can incur capital punishment
Justice demands that courts should impose punishment befitting the crime so that the courts reflect public abhorrence of the crime.
Capital punishment in a given case must be “observed” upon the atrocity of the crime, the conduct of the criminal and the defenceless and unprotected state of the victim, and not just on ethical dimensions.
Two values are involved:
(1). Individuals life – human value – right of human to take life of other human
(2). Utilitarian value i.e. welfare of society at the cost of one life
Decision should be based on context. No cut and dry prescription. In general, taking someone’s life is against human values and moral conscience of rational society.
But, capital punishment can be considered
(1). if individual is without remorse and there is no scope of improvement in his conduct in future
(2). crime is committed with planning and in cold blood knowing fully the consequences
(3). Crime crosses all limits of rationality and blurs difference between humans and animals
SC –> “Rarest of rare case” –> case to case basis


Is death penalty justified even if perpetrators have committed ‘rarest of rare’ crime? Justify. (200 Words)
Death penalty is the strictest punishment prescribed in law books and the whole idea is to serve justice to the aggrieved and deter potential criminals from committing the same crime by setting a precedent. Death penalty was widely used in medieval time at the whims of the ruler and also during colonial times to suppress nationalism.
It is high time we did away with such Draconian methods because:
    1. No evidence exists to prove that death penalty deters crime rate. Rather if death penalty is prescribed for cases like rape, the perpetrator will then have a reason to murder the victim.
    2. Death penalty was used in earlier times for varying reasons. Such outdated and barbaric methods have no place in modern civilized society.
    3. It puts retribution first and rehabilitation and reformation second. There is no sinner without a future just as there is no saint without a past. Also inordinate delays in possible Presidential pardons are violation of rights of the convict and cause much mental agony to the convict and relatives.
    4. The global trend is also to end capital punishment. As two wrongs don’t make a right.
    5. No man should have the right to take anyone’s life. Moreover, capital punishment once done cannot bring back the gone, even if the convict is found to be not guilty at a later stage.
So the Supreme Court guidelines on using death penalty in rarest of rare cases were a welcome step. As Mahatma Gandhi said forgiveness is the attribute of the strong, accordingly we should end the capital punishment and use rigorous imprisonment instead and community work to offset burden on exchequer.
‘Rarest of rare’ crime means where perpetrators has done irreparable damage to victim for whole life. This may contain acid attack, murders or brutal sexual assault. Though on layman’s approach of “pay price for damage” gives justice like death penalty a conscious validity, but it’s not right.
Murdering a person for murdering another is not correct.
There are various reasons where capital punishment is not the solution:
    1. It has never been proved that death penalty act as deterrent and it decreases the occurrence of such crime. If we will make death sentence more common, it will lead to more common murders because most of the crimes occur during alcoholism, rage, instantaneous spurt of emotion. Hence, once perpetrator has committed the crime, he would kill victim to erase any evidence.
    2. There are many instances where later it came out that judgement was wrong, often “rarest of rare crime” are committed by people from lower socio-economic strata who can’t represent themselves through good private lawyers hence, they are left at the mercy of judge, media speculations and emotions of people which can make his crime look more heinous which if committed by rich person could have gone years of punishment. Hence, it’s not correct.
Instead, we can opt for life imprisonment with mid-term appeal system and different jail system for life imprisonment convicts with in-house vocational work for them with extra tight security. Also, all money raised by their work should go to victim rehabilitation or society.


The death punishment to a criminal who has committed ghastly crime is considered as unethical and inhuman by many people. What does your conscience tell you about capital punishment? Critically discuss. (200 Words)
Human life is sacrosanct. Once lost it can’t be recovered. Hence it receive utmost importance leading to the rejection of the idea of capital punishment. But, the question arises here is, “Is the life of the person, who does not consider others life as sacrosanct, be given any importance”. My conscience tells me that all life irrespective of his/her deeds should receive equal importance and that capital punishment be abrogated.
To support my view I would like to highlight few points:
    1. Impeccability of the criminal justice system is still questionable with many ingrained flaws in it. Even Supreme court has accepted its error in judgement, but only when few people have been hanged.
    2. National Crime Record Bureau data shows that the subjectivity in deciding heinous crime to award punishment is tilted more towards poor and vulnerable.
    3. The deterrent effect of capital punishment is rarely found. A minor girl was raped next day on the award of capital punishment in Delhi rape case.
    4. Global trend is also shifting away from Capital punishment. India’s image would be tarnished if it continues with capital punishment and will affect its soft power.
But I am also not of the opinion of relaxing punishment. These criminals should be impounded for life in complete isolation. This will provide an opportunity to reverse the judgement in case any flaw is identified later. Also these criminals can be used at some point of time as display to general public so that their remorse may give lesson to deviated mind to correct themselves.


“If capital punishment by itself is abhorrent and has no place in a modern society, executing prisoners using ineffective lethal injections is outright barbaric.” Comment. How can one decide which is more humane – lethal injections or hanging to death? (200 Words)
Capital punishment may look legitimate in case of hard-line criminals but on minute close analysis it is not humane and correct.
Few arguments against why Capital punishment are unethical:
    1. Capital punishment always runs with a risk of executing innocent people. Capital punishment are irreversible, Life is taken is permanent damage. It is found that many a cases later it is found that innocent were executed but it was not made public to avoid public outrage.
    2. Biasness for awarding capital punishment to minorities, inferior races: It is found in US reports that Judges and prosecutors awards capital punishment to poor, racial inferior and black against white and rich people which goes unexamined and ethically wrong.
    3. Death Penalty is incompetent and incoherent with basic human rights. As per the UNHRC, Right to Life is basic human right.
    4. Death Penalty doesn‘t deter Crime: Main aim of awarding Punishment is to instil fear and deterrence among prospective criminals. But, there are little evidence found that Capital punishments are actually acting as deterrence.
    5. Public Opinion is not always Right: Often public sentiments and emotions run high on certain occasions like Nirbhaya case of December 16 where public demanded Execution for all convicts including juveniles. Public support for the death penalty does not necessarily mean that taking away the life of a human being by the state is right. There are undisputed historical precedence where gross human rights violations had had the support of a majority of the people, but which were condemned vigorously later on. It is the job of leading figures and politicians to underline the incompatibility of capital punishment with human rights and human dignity.
    6. There are better punishments like Parole-less life time penalty and giving the money earned by Prisoner  for social goods, improving condition of Prison and prisoners like in US recently bill passed.
    7. Poor Quality of Defence mostly leads to Capital Punishment: In many cases when the alleged perpetrator of crime is poor and financially incompetent to hire good lawyer for himself, Public lawyer takes his defence and because of poor quality and insincere defence leads to Capital Punishment.
    8. No Civilians job should include executing a person: Often person executing a prisoner suffers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is similar case when combat soldier often suffers with guilt and PTSD after killing an enemy on line of duty.
    9. As per the Constitution of all Democratic Nations we the people are actually the State, If state is executing someone, it means we are executing a prisoner, Any mistake on State‘s part is our shame also.
    10. Many a times mentally ill are executed: As per the Amnesty International research often mentally incompetent people who are not aware of court proceeding are punished. Many mentally ill defendants are unable to participate in their trials in any meaningful way and appear unengaged, cold, and unfeeling before the jury. Some have been forcibly medicated in order to make them competent to be executed.
Hence, Capital punishment is social vice and should be banned.
Let us take Capital punishment as a process where Death is the consequence while lethal injection or hanging is medium. Now for a Consequentialist (Teleological Ethics ) ideology, both hanging and administering lethal injection are wrong because they are leading to death and capital punishment. We already discussed why capital punishment is wrong. In Consequentialist ethics consequences are judgement point of an act.
Now if we consider this case in perspective of Non-Consequentialist (Deontological ethics) ideology, administering punishment with lethal injection is more humane, because here Consequence is already fixed only the duty or the process is analysed.
Hence it is difficult for one to decide as to which is a more humane way to execute a person, when we know that executing in first place itself is wrong.



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