Jagmohan Singh v The State of Uttar Pradesh

– by Shruti Sinha[[1]]

In the Supreme Court of India

NAME OF THE CASEJagmohan Singh v The State of Uttar Pradesh
CITATIONCriminal Appeal No. 173 of 1971
DATE OF JUDGEMENTOctober 03, 1972
APPELLATEJagmohan Singh
RESPONDENTState of Uttar Pradesh
JUDGE/BENCHD.G. Palekar, S.M. Sikri, A.N. Ray, I.D. Dua, M. Hameedullah Beg
CONSTITUTION/STATUTES INVOLVEDConstitution of India, 1949; Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973; Indian Penal Code, 1860
IMPORTANT ARTICLES/SECTIONS INVOLVEDConstitution Art. 14, 19, 21; CrPC Section 306, 309; IPC Section 302


The appeal had been filed before the Hon’ble Supreme Court, by special leave from the judgement of the High Court that had upheld the decision of the Sessions Court – to bestow capital punishment upon the Appellant, convicted for murder under IPC Section 302.


The case of Jagmohan Singh v The State of Uttar Pradesh[[2]] had led to a landmark judgement by the Supreme Court in which the five-judge bench had upheld the constitutional legitimacy of the sentence of capital punishment under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 that had been challenged in this case, upon the grounds of equality, freedom, and the right to life that is provided by the Constitution of India.

Deliberations on this subject matter had led to the criticism that capital punishment is against the right to life which is an unalienable and natural right by the virtue of birth as a human being and whether this practice is in accordance with the philosophy of the Indian Constitution and the due process established by the law.


The Appellant-Jagmohan Singh had been convicted under IPC Section 302 for the murder of Chhotey Singh and had been sentenced to death by the learned Sessions Judge, Shahjahanpur, and the appeal thereof had also been confirmed by the Allahabad High Court, by an order dated February 26, 1971, for the Criminal Appeal No. 1229 of 1970, which had led to the present appeal against these judgements before the Hon’ble Supreme Court by special leave.

As confirmed by the evidence and its appropriate examination before the previous Courts, Chhotey Singh had been murdered on September 10, 1969, by Jagmohan Singh, owing to the ill feelings that had been harboured between the two ever since the death of the uncle of Jagmohan Singh for which Chhotey Singh had formerly been accused but had later been acquitted by the High Court some six-seven years ago. Both Jagmohan Singh and Chhotey Singh had been minors at that time.

Years later, there had been some quarrel between Jagmohan Singh along with his cousin Jagbir Singh against Chhotey Singh over the right of irrigation of fields, but the dispute had gotten settled then and there itself by the other people who had come to prevent any aggravation in conflict. However, the next day, Jagmohan Singh, armed with a pistol, and Jagbir Singh, carrying a lathi, had ambushed Chhotey Singh in his bajra field, and during the chaos that ensued, Chhotey Singh had gotten shot in the back that had led to his death.

Upon due analysis of the facts and circumstances of the case, the learned Sessions Judge had declared that the Appellant deserved the death penalty. Upon appeal, the Allahabad High Court had confirmed the death sentence, observing that there had been no “extenuating circumstances and the sentence of death awarded had been just and proper.”[2]


  1. Whether the punishment of the death penalty under IPC Section 302 is constitutionally valid and adheres to the ideology of the Indian Constitution?
  2. Whether the punishment of the death penalty under IPC Section 302 is violative of the freedoms mandated by the Indian Constitution under Art. 19?
  3. Whether the punishment of the death penalty under IPC Section 302 suffers from excessive delegation from the legislative to the judiciary?
  4. Whether the punishment of the death penalty under IPC Section 302 is violative of the Right to Equality under Art. 14 of the Indian Constitution?
  5. Whether the punishment of the death penalty under IPC Section 302 deprives the accused of his life without any due procedure established by the law as per Art. 21 of the Indian Constitution?


The following arguments had been put forward by the appellant side:

  1. Learned counsel on the behalf of the appellant side had contended that the death penalty is against all the fundamental rights of freedom, guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Art. 19(1)(a) to (g), therefore it is unreasonable and not in the interest of the general public.
  2. He had observed that the judgement of conviction and imposition of capital punishment is not based on any proper standards, policy, or procedure, but rather on the perspective and discretion of the Bench. He had also submitted that the delivery of the death sentence under IPC Section 302 is a “vice of excessive delegation of essential legislative function.”[2]
  3. Learned counsel had further added that the “uncontrolled and unguided discretion of the Judges to impose capital punishment or imprisonment for life”[2] is thus also against the Right to Equality as mandated by Art. 14 of the Constitution because it creates a disparity between how two persons, guilty of the same offence within similar facts, are treated before the law that one of them loses his life while the other gets to live.
  4. Learned counsel had lastly contended that the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 is limited to the assessment of guilt, and there is no procedure established by the law for the “trial of factors and circumstances crucial for making the choice between capital penalty and imprisonment for life.”[2] Here, the Right to Life as per Art. 21 of the Constitution is violated and thus, the death sentence is unconstitutional.

Against the above rationale, it had been held that:

  1. The provisions of Article 72(1)(c), 134, and entries 1 and 2 in List III of the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution show that the makers of the Constitution had already recognised the death sentence as a “permissible punishment” and had made constitutional provisions for appeal, reprieve, and the like”[2] against it. This vision of thought clearly implies that the death sentence is a deprivation of life that is constitutionally accepted and as per the process established by the law. Also, since Parliament has also not passed for its abolition, and it is unclear if life imprisonment could be an adequate substitute for it, the death sentence cannot be regarded as unreasonable or not in the interest of the public.
  2. The duty to decide on the death penalty as per their own reasoning is given to the Bench by the principle of “impossibility of laying down standards”, which is at the core of the criminal law as administered in India, and it grants the Judges a wide discretion in fixing the degree of punishment, but such discretion is subject to correction via various provisions of remedy and appeal provided by the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the exercise of judicial discretion is “the safest possible safeguard for the accused”[2] as opposed to any black-and-white standard of judgement.
  3. Even though crimes may superficially appear the same considering the facts and circumstances, the court takes due consideration of all the said facts and circumstances before delivering its judgement, hence it is not violative of the Right to Equality as per Art. 14 of the Constitution, because all the judgements are essentially deserved in proportion to the crimes committed.
  4. As under the provisions of the CrPC, there are various stages during the trial at a court whereby the accused may oppose evidence or offer additional evidence to prove his stand, refuse or remit his sentence, but in the absence of any such action, the trial regulated under CrPC Section 306(2) and 309(2) and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 by the Court stands valid and in accordance to the due procedure established by the law, hence not unconstitutional under the meaning of Art. 21 of the Constitution.


Constitution of India, 1949

  1. Article 14: Equality before law– The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
  2. Article 19: Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc.– All citizens shall have the right
  3. to freedom of speech and expression;
  4. to assemble peaceably and without arms;
  5. to form associations or unions;
  6. to move freely throughout the territory of India;
  7. to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
  8. omitted
  9. to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business

(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

  • Article 21: Protection of life and personal liberty– No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

  1. Section 306(2). This section applies to–
  2. any offence triable exclusively by the Court of Session or by the Court of a Special Judge appointed under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1952 (46 of 1952);
  3. any offence punishable with imprisonment which may extend to seven years or with a more severe sentence.
  4. Section 309(2). If the Court, after taking cognizance of an offence, or commencement of trial, finds it necessary or advisable to postpone the commencement of, or adjourn, any inquiry or trial, it may, from time to time, for reasons to be recorded, postpone or adjourn the same on such terms as it thinks fit, for such time as it considers reasonable, and may by a warrant remand the accused if in custody: Provided that no Magistrate shall remand an accused person to custody under this section for a term exceeding fifteen days at a time: Provided further that when witnesses are in attendance, no adjournment or postponement shall be granted, without examining them, except for special reasons to be recorded in writing: 1 Provided also that no adjournment shall be granted for the purpose only of enabling the accused person to show cause against the sentence proposed to be imposed on him.] Explanation 1.- If sufficient evidence has been obtained to raise a suspicion that the accused may have committed an offence, and it appears likely that further evidence may be obtained by a remand, this is a reasonable cause for a remand. Explanation 2.- The terms on which an adjournment or postponement may be granted include, in appropriate cases, the payment of costs by the prosecution or the accused.

Indian Penal Code, 1860

Section 302: Punishment for murder– Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death, or 1[imprisonment for life], and shall also be liable to fine.


After due contemplation of the facts and rationale, the five-judge bench, by a unanimous verdict, had upheld the constitutional validity of capital punishment, declaring that it is not violative of Art. 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

It had been held that Art. 19 deals with freedoms of speech, expression, trade, and so on, but it does not directly deal with the freedom to live. Even though no other freedom is possible without this essential freedom, it is subject to reasonable restrictions and the general public interest. The provision of giving the death sentence under IPC Section 302 not only fulfils the above criteria but also adheres to the constitutional legitimacy because the framers of the Constitution had to obviously acknowledge capital punishment permissible in the eyes of the law first before making the numerous provisions to pardon, suspend, remit or commute the said sentence via articles like 72 and 134 of the Constitution; “the implication is very clear.”[2] Hence, considering all the provisions, the death sentence can neither be held unreasonable nor unconstitutional.

In the face of all the western philosophy and studies put forward by the appellant side to prove the ineffectiveness of the death penalty, it has been observed by the Apex Court that such ideas suffer from stereotypes and cannot be appropriately applied to the dynamics of India. It has further been stated that the individual assessment of every case, tailored to its specific circumstances and severity, is a more appropriate approach.

The Supreme Court cited the cases of Furman v State of Georgia[[3]] and the thirty-fifth Report of the Law Commission of India to explain that capital punishment cannot be abolished on a black-and-white perception and it is better suited to retain it in India. It also further cited the cases of Ram Narain v The State of UP[[4]] to reiterate that the Apex Court does not generally interfere with the judgements of the High Court unless there had been a disregard for the principles of justice or a serious failure of justice. The case of State of Madras v V.G. Row[[5]] to state that the standard for the test of reasonableness depends upon the individual statute which has been impugned and not just on any general standard or abstract pattern, the case of Municipal Committee v Baisakhi Rain[[6]] to observe that the policy of the law to give a very wide discretion to the judges in deciding the severity of punishment has its origin in the ‘impossibility of laying down standards’, which is a fundamental of the criminal law as administered in India, and the case of Budhan Choudhary v The State of Bihar[[7]] to declare that Art. 14 can hardly be invoked in matters of judicial discretion as they do not hold any ground for violation of equality when the judgement is passed with the individual consideration of unique facts and circumstances.

As for the death sentence being excessive legislation, it has been stated that after the Amending Act 26 of 1956 had deleted Section 367(5) of the CrPC, it had been left upon the judges to decide in individual cases which sentences to give for murder and that it is the better way, open to appeals and revisions if any error may be committed. The structure and perspective of the Constitution, IPC, and CrPC had equipped the judges with enough vision to give fair judgement as per the minutes of the respective case.

Hence, in light of all the above rationale, the appeal had been dismissed.


The topic of capital punishment is a controversial one, not just in India but in other parts of the world as well. It has been a part of multiple cultures and civilizations ever since time immemorial, and while some countries have abolished it along time, other countries such as India, China, the USA, Japan, etc. have not. India is one of the 78 retentionist countries which have retained the death penalty on the ground that it will be awarded only in the ‘rarest of rare cases’ and for ‘special reasons’.[[8]] As elucidated from the case above, it is clear that what constitutes the fulfilment of the above criteria is left up to the judges to evaluate. In a dynamic country like India, indeed there cannot be a one-fit-all solution, and the present approach rightfully leaves more scope for mercy and humanity rather than viewing all the cases with the same black-and-white lens.

[1] Author is a 1st Year Student of Government Law College, Mumbai

[2] Jagmohan Singh v The State of UP, 1973 AIR 947

[3] Furman v Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972)

[4] Ram Narain and Ors. v The State of Uttar Pradesh, 1971 SC 757

[5] State of Madras v V.G. Row [1952] SCR 597

[6] Municipal Committee v Baisakhi Rain, Crl. Law Journal 475

[7] Budhan Choudhary and Ors. v The State of Bihar [1955] SCR 1045

[8] Taheer Fatima, Constitutionality of Death Penalty, INDIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (Jul 04, 2022, 11:36 AM), <https://www.indianbarassociation.org/constitutionality-of-death-penalty/>

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