Death Penalty – UPSC Ethics

“While abolition of the death penalty for crimes other than terrorist acts or treason may be justified, its retention in the case of punishment for having carried out terrorist acts or treason seems equally justifiable.” Do you agree with this view? Critically comment. (200 Words)

Death penalty for crimes other than terrorist acts or treason should definitely be abolished as it is incompatible with human rights and human dignity; there is no conclusive evidence of its deterrence; its arbitrary application can often result in disproportionate punishment; risk of executing innocent persons and all the opportunities for deformation are lost.
    1. It’s an act against the State: Terrorism is against the security and stability of the State and hence, completely different in intention than other crimes.
    2. A strong message to adversaries: If death sentence is abolished for terrorists, it will send a message to the sponsors of such acts that India is acting lenient on security issues and hence bolster terrorism.
    3. It’s a deterrent: However much indoctrinated human nature compels a man to fear when death dawn before him. Retaining such sentence would be deterrent for to be offenders. An argument is advanced that retaining death sentence would help terrorist as they look forward to die and become martyrs making them reach heaven. But such an argument is very farfetched.
    4. The distinction between above two situations is justified even under Art. 14 of the constitution where discrimination is allowed if rational nexus is drawn between the act and the object to be achieved. A nexus more rational than this cannot be drawn in any other case.
It might be felt at once that it should be retained in the case of punishment for carrying out terrorist activities or treason but we need to look deeply into the issue.
    1. When terrorists are awarded death penalty, they become martyrs and a sources of recruitment for terrorist groups which may try to influence the misguided youngsters of minority community. It might also enhance their capability to raise funds.
    2. These terrorists are religious fanatics and believe in reward in the “after life” and endless pleasures in heaven. Not awarding them the death penalty would mean depriving them of the anticipated rewards in heaven.
    3. Not rewarding them with death penalty and retaining them might help in getting information about other terrorist groups.
    4. It might invite retaliatory attack from terrorists who would want to take the revenge for their loss.
Thus, capital punishment should be abolished for all types of crimes.


Why Death Penalty should be removed?
The purpose of punishment or penalty is reformation and not retribution. Death penalty does not comply with our sense of reformative justice. It must be abolished on following ground:
    1. Fairness – Clemency of death penalty has Social and economic biases towards those with the means to pursue legal remedies till the very end. According to National Law University, Delhi, most of those sentenced to death are poor, uneducated and belong to religious minorities.
    2. Reformation – More that 60% of death row convicts are first-time offenders. Chance must be given to reform. Ashoka after realising his mistake become “Ashoka the great”.
    3. Empathy and compassion – Many of the death row convict are too young, around 18 years of age, or too old, above 60.
    4. International practice – 140 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
    5. Failure to deter – Surveys conducted for UN has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. The Southern states of U.S account for 80% of executions and have the highest regional murder rate.
    6. Judicial accountability – It would be great miscarriage of justice if a wrongful death execution is carried out. How will judiciary pay back for such a mistake.



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