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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

India's Supreme Court sets free death row convict

India's Supreme Court
India's Supreme Court
A death row convict was today set free by the Supreme Court saying the prosecution has not proved the charge against him of murdering his wife and five daughters on the basis of evidence on record.

Justices Ranjan Gogoi and U U Lalit acquitted the man, even as Justice P C Pant, who was also part of the bench, dissented with their view and upheld the conviction.

Justice Pant, however, commuted to life imprisonment, the death penalty awarded to the Chhattisgarh native, saying the trial court and the High Court were influenced by the brutality and the manner in which the crime was committed.

The 2:1 verdict came on the man's appeal against his conviction and sentence.

According to the prosecution, Chhattisgarh-native Dhal Singh Dewangan, killed his wife and 5 daughters on February 19, 2012.

In the majority verdict, delivered by Justice U U Lalit, the apex court held that the appellant deserved to be acquitted as the prosecution had not proved its case.

"We allow these appeals, set aside the judgments of conviction and sentence recorded by the Courts below against the appellant and acquit him of all the charges levelled against him. The appellant be set at liberty immediately unless his custody is required in any other case," the majority bench said.

The majority bench held that the circumstantial evidence, based on which the trial court had convicted the man, "did not form a complete chain of evidence."

"In our view, the circumstances mentioned do not form a complete chain of evidence as not to leave any reasonable ground for the conclusion consistent with the innocence of the appellant, nor do the circumstances exclude every possible hypothesis except the guilt of the accused," they said.

Justice Pant, in his minority view, said "the State has failed to show that the appellant is a continuing threat to the society or that he is beyond reformation and rehabilitation. Both the courts below, in my opinion, appear to have been influenced by the brutality and the manner in which the crime is committed."

"But this Court cannot ignore the fact that there are no criminal antecedents of the appellant. Also, it cannot be said that he is continuing threat to the society or that he cannot be reformed or rehabilitated," he said.

Justice Pant also observed that the convict belonged to a "socially and economically disadvantaged strata of the society" and considering the facts, it found that life imprisonment would meet the ends of justice.

Source: Press Trust of India, September 26, 2016

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