December 16, 2009

What is Life Imprisonment? 14 years or 20 years or life?

There is always a wrong impression that life imprisonment in India is not imprisonment for natural life but for 14 years and in some cases, 20 years. Neither. Life is “life” in life imprisonment. Punishment acts as deterrence and prevents crime from being repeated. One of the forms of punishment that is imposed upon the offender for the loss or injury caused by his act or omission is Imprisonment. Imprisonment may be for three months, six months, one year, two year and so on…There is no problem in computing the sentence when it is expressly mentioned in the sections of IPC or other substantive laws. However, when an offence is punishable with life imprisonment, for e.g. murder, it becomes an unsolved mystique for sorts. 

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Myth 1: Section 433A of the Code of Criminal Procedure states that if an offence is committed and the punishment for which is either death or life imprisonment and the person is awarded life imprisonment, some restriction is to be imposed on remission and computation. The Government cannot leave the person so sentenced unless he has served 14 years in jail.

Myth 2: In every case, where the offender is punishable for attempt to commit an offence, the punishment that has to be provided is usually the half of the actual punishment. For e.g., punishment for criminal breach of trust is three years and attempt to commit criminal breach of trust is 1.5 years. However, even the legislature does not have the capacity to define “life”. Simply put, who knows what is the half of “life imprisonment” when “life imprisonment” itself is unknown. There, law provides that in an offence punishable with life imprisonment, where one has to quantum life or fraction of life, ‘life’ means 20 years.

Therefore, Life imprisonment is considered to be the imprisonment of an offender for the rest of his life in jail or he should take his last breath inside the cells. If an offender is punishable for more than one offence, and the Court in its judgment fails to mention how the punishment should run, it should run one after the other. [So, if two offences are committed, both being punishable with three years imprisonment, the sentence shall run 3+3. However, this principle is not applicable in cases of life imprisonment since it is not possible to imprison a person after death and law compels no impossibility i.e. impotentia excusat legem]. Normally, punishments run concurrently. Also, usually every offender is released within 14 years and is not imprisoned for life unless circumstances exist to keep him behind bars!

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