Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
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India opposes UN resolution for moratorium on death penalty

India has opposed a UN resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty, saying it goes against Indian law and the sovereign right of countries to determine their own laws and penalties.

"The resolution before us sought to promote a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty," Mayank Joshi, a counsellor at India's UN Mission said on Thursday. "My delegation, therefore, has voted against the resolution as a whole as it goes against Indian statutory law."

The resolution, however, was adopted by the General Assembly's committee dealing with humanitarian affairs by 115 votes to 38 with 31 abstentions after an acrimonious debate and the adoption of an amendment to recognise the sovereign rights of nations to determine their own laws, which virtually nullified it.

India supported the amendment and Joshi told the committee: "Every State has the sovereign right to determine its own legal system and appropriate legal penalties."

The amendment passed by a vote of 76 to 72 with 26 abstentions. However, it did not mollify India, which voted against the amended resolution.

Explaining New Delhi's position on capital punishment, Joshi said, "In India, the death penalty is exercised in the 'rarest of rare' cases, where the crime committed is so heinous as to shock the conscience of society."

In the last 12 years only 3 executions - all of them of terrorists - have been carried out in the nation of 1.2 billion.

Last year Yakub Memon, who financed the 1993 Mumbai bombings, was executed. Muhammad Afzal, convicted of plotting the 2001 attack on India's Parliament, was hanged in 2013 and Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, 1 of the terrorists involved in the 2008 Mumbai attack was executed in 2012.

An independent judiciary hears the cases where death penalty can be imposed and appeals are permitted at several levels, Joshi said. Moreover, the Supreme Court has decreed that "poverty, socio-economic, psychic compulsions, undeserved adversities in life" should be considered as mitigating factors in imposing the death penalty, he added.

The amendment about the sovereign right of nations to have their own legal systems was introduced by Singapore. Its delegate said that the original resolution was 1-sided and tried to impose the values of one group of countries upon others.

New Zealand, echoing the sentiments of several other countries, said that sovereignty did not absolve nations from complying with international norms of human rights and the death penalty violated it.

The United States also opposed the resolution saying that capital punishment was legal under international law and dealing with it was a domestic matter.

Source: Hindustan Times, November 19, 2016

Death penalty unimaginably evil, sovereignly stupid: book

The death penalty is a "macabre folly" whose continuance is "not just unimaginably evil, but sovereignly stupid", writes Gopalkrishna Gandhi in his new book on capital punishment.

Gandhi says abolishing the death penalty is about doing away with the "most sullied symbol of a sullied system" that "mimics and perpetuates" medieval blood sports in crime and punishment.

In 'Abolishing the Death Penalty: Why India Should Say No to Capital Punishment', he acknowledges the surge in popular calls for "collective retribution".

He argues that the prevailing social attitude to death penalty, "coloured by a revulsion" over the Nirbhaya case and rage over terrorist attacks, should not influence the state and those at the helm.

"The death penalty is a macabre folly that swings between tragedy and idiocy. Its continuance is not just unimaginably evil, but sovereignly stupid; its termination will not just be nobly element but wholly and supremely and incontestably intelligent," the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi writes.

"To abolish the death penalty is to end the mentality that treats the convict as a toy passed by a public's insatiable appetite for retribution to a power that indulges that macabre trait," he says in the book to be released next week.

Arguing that India has an abolitionist trend, Gandhi feels the opposition to the hanging of Bhagat Singh suggested it. However, he argues the tide changed with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi as it might have "militated against abolition".

Several private member bills and resolutions moved in Parliament during the tenure of Jawaharlal Nehru, who favoured abolition, failed and cites the one moved by actor and Rajya Sabha nominated MP Prithviraj Kapoor in 1958 among others.

Mocking India's reluctance in doing away with capital punishment, Gandhi says abolishing death penalty and shaming torture into retreat are, "by the state's light", not masculine steps. "A state that wants to be in the (UN) Security Council thinks it should be seen as tough on terror, no matter if it is rough with rights," he adds.

Lamenting that terrorism has taken execution debate to a "margent hazy with smoke of hellfire", Gandhi believes that there is a "social sentiment, political compulsion and above all, the state's izzat (prestige)" that compels it to retain it.

Public is always "death-penalty minded" and acts like the Dadri killing and the lynching of a prisoner in Nagaland "show a mindset that is entirely comfortable with the death penalty", he writes.

Source: Deccan Herald, November 19, 2016

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