Crime & Sentencing

-Sidharth Luthra & Supriya Juneja

The idea of a crime is that it is something that rightly concerns the State, and not just the person(s) affected by the wrongdoings. Many crimes are civil wrongs as well, such as- torts or breaches of contract, and it is the injured party which is required to decide whether to sue for damages. However, the decision to convert a “conduct” into a “crime” implies that there is an element of public interest in ensuring that such conduct does not happen and that, when it does, there is a possibility of state punishment.

Crime as a public wrong is a wrong which the community is appropriately responsible for punishing. That, in philosophical terms, is what is characteristic of crimes, at least of fault-based crimes. It is in public interest to provide for the punishment of serious wrongs contained in violent acts, whenever they occur and whoever inflicts them. The “Manava-Dharamsatra” (Manu’s Code of Law), explains “The Law for the King” on punishments. It says in Chapter 7 that “the king should administer appropriate punishment on men, who behave improperly” and that “punishment disciplines all the subjects, punishment alone protects them and watches over them as they sleep- Punishment is the Law, the wise declare.

Authorising the state to prosecute for crime is necessary to ensure social order and to curb vigilantism. This is in consonance with the principle engrafted in Article 21 of the Constitution. State agencies investigate and prosecute, and the Courts (bound by the Constitution and laws) independently adjudicate and determine (a) innocence/guilt and (b) punishment. Thus when a court passes a sentence, it authorizes the use of state coercion against a person for committing an offence and is required to act within the confines of Article 21. The general principle is that the punishment and the crime should be equal or equivalent. One way of ensuring equality is to repeat what the offender has done with roles reversed. But just as one can repay the borrowed sugar by returning something else deemed to be of equal value, so punishment gives offenders their “just deserts” if it inflicts upon them the degree of suffering which is judged to be equivalent to the suffering caused by their respective crimes. Interpreted in this manner, the principle resembles the utilitarian doctrine in some respects in that it reduces both the crime and the punishment to a common denominator, the suffering caused against which they may be compared. It differs from utilitarianism in insisting that punishment must equal the crime irrespective of the consequences produced by such equality. So even when a lesser punishment will serve to reduce a crime more effectively than a greater punishment, the latter is still to be meted out if it is deserved in accordance with the facts and circumstances of the case.

Read the full article here.

Cite as : Sidharth Luthra & Supriya Juneja, Crime & Sentencing, 1 Ind. J. of Const. & Admin. L. 25-31(2017).


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