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When a crime is proven, the law normally imposes a penalty, with judges taking into account all points of view and the criminal’s past. Punishment must not only be a response to the crime, but also a deterrent to the offender committing other crimes. Punishment is a form of custom that our society has followed to suppress crime, and this custom has evolved into a law that everyone in our society follows to prevent wrongdoings and maintain a calm and healthy environment. As a result, today’s definition of crime is “a person’s wrongdoing that results in a penalized infraction.”

So, what constitutes a criminal offence? When a person’s wrongdoings are labelled as punishable offences, such as murder, theft, child trafficking, and rape, among others.” There is a reaction to every action. So, while there are certain theories to justify wrongdoers who disrupt society’s social fabric, punishment does not have universal applicability. Andrew Von Hirsch writes ‘just desert’ as a criminal sentence at the end of the last century, i.e., the penalty should be proportional to the crime. Today, the primary goal of punishment is to safeguard society, and the features of punishment, such as justice, deterrence, and reformation, are critical. The preventive theory of punishment describes how punishment can also serve as a deterrent to crime.


The policy of punishment cannot be solely based on the nature of the crime committed; it must also take into account the offenders’ character. The same crime could be committed by two different types of criminals. However, different types of criminals require different types of punishment. There is no uniformity in the awarding of punishments in India because we do not have standardized sentencing guidelines.

Procedural rules, such as the Indian Penal Code, specify the minimum and maximum penalties that can be imposed for a crime, but they do not specify any guidelines or clarify the principles that must be followed while imposing sentences. This allows the judge a lot of freedom in deciding the sentence within the statutory parameters. Some judges are forgiving, while others are harsh.

The goal of any sentence is to give a sentence that is appropriate, adequate, just, and proportionate to the nature of the offence, the motivation behind the offence, and the method in which the offence is carried out.

The broad factors that judges use while deciding on punishments are as follows:

  • The seriousness of the offence
  • The actual loss incurred as a result of the offence
  • The ability of the defendant to pay fines
  • Offender’s mentality
  • Conventions or standard practices followed by the court in such cases
  • First-time offences or repeat offences, etc.


Four people have been convicted of rape and murder in the Nirbhaya rape case. According to the juvenile justice act, which allows juveniles 16 and older to be prosecuted as adults for serious crimes including rape and murder, the juvenile is given a maximum sentence of three years in a reform facility. Heinous offences are those that carry a sentence of seven years or more in jail. The bill requires every district to establish Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees., while the rest were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. So, while they all committed the same act in this case, the youngster was sentenced to three years in a rehabilitation facility while the others were given the death penalty.

In Macchi Singh v. the State of Punjab[1], the Supreme Court held Macchi Singh (accused), his sister, Piaro Bai responsible for the deaths of seventeen persons and the injury of three more. Macchi Singh and his eleven friends were prosecuted in five-session tribunals for the murder of seventeen individuals. At each trial, Macchi Singh was the same defendant. Following the trial, the defendants who were found guilty were sentenced under the relevant articles of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Nine of the total number of defendants were condemned to live in prison, while Macchi Singh and three others were sentenced to death.


There are three sorts of intention: general intention, particular intention, and constructive intention. The intent is a crucial factor in determining the severity of a crime’s punishment. If a person commits an act that results in the death of another person but has no intention of killing that person, or if a person’s only motive is to kill another person. There is merely a difference in intent in both cases. Then, depending on the actions of each individual but with distinct objectives, the punishment should be different in each case.


The judge considers the defendants’ previous histories as well as the aggravating elements of the case when determining how long each defendant will serve in jail. Sentencing is based on a number of variables. Everything is set up on a case-by-case basis. Even for those with the same charge, with the same crime, each offender is unique, as is the fact of each crime. Despite the fact that the charges are similar, there may be circumstances in each case that make one worse than the other. In some cases, there may be mitigating circumstances that are not present in others.


The problem of punishment is essentially comprised of the competing claims of these various approaches. Offences are committed when there is a conflict between the wrongdoer’s real or perceived interests and the interests of society as a whole. Nonetheless, punishment does not apply to everyone. It doesn’t matter what kind of punishment is used; it might be based on moral, especially religious, considerations. Most offences have a range of punishments available under the law (and varies from state to state and the federal system). The range ostensibly allows the court to impose a sentence that is suitable to the circumstances of the offence — the offender’s age and criminal record, as well as the presence of aggravating and mitigating variables that influence how society views the crime.

As a result, it is evident that whether a specific offence should be punished with the lowest or maximum penalty prescribed for it, or somewhere in between, is entirely up to the judge’s discretion. Section 354(1)(B) of the CrPC requires judges to record the reasons for imposing a particular sentence, and Section 354(3) requires supplementary reasons to be provided whenever a sentence authorizes life imprisonment or the death penalty. Despite the foregoing rules, it is undeniable that the lack of a sentencing strategy in India gives judges and the court a great deal of discretion.

Simply put, not every judge approach sentencing with the same mindset and concerns. A few general considerations that all judges consider include the gravity of an offence, the intent, and the liability. The final sentencing, however, is heavily influenced by a judge’s personal experience, prejudices, and concerns. The competency of the lawyers presents on a given day in front of a certain court, who could sway the judges in their favour, would be a critical consideration. Every case has unique circumstances and characteristics that either aggravate or minimize the potential punishment that could be imposed. This has also been recognized by the Supreme Court, which stated in the case of State of M.P. v. Bablu Natt[2]:

The principle controlling punishment would be determined by the facts and circumstances of each case.”

Author(s) Name: Arghya Sen (Amity University, Kolkata


[1]Machhi Singh v. State Of Punjab, 1983 AIR 957.

[2] State of Madhya Pradesh v. Bablu Natt, (2009) 2 SCC 272.

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