Lenient Sentencing: A Comparative Analysis

Fagun Sahni
Symbiosis Law School, Noida, India

Volume III – Issue II, 2021

Deterrence or Reformation? This is a question as old as criminology and penology itself. Answering this question is not only tricky, but is seemingly impossible. On the one hand, deterrence prevents further commitment of offences, or at least aims to, by means of imposition of harsh sentences; whereas reformation on the other hand, tends to be much more lenient with the object of reforming the perpetrator of offence. Whereas there are instances of unimaginably harsh sentences being imposed in the name of deterrence, the instances of unreasonably lenient sentencing for progressing the reformative mindset clearly outnumber them. These lenient sentencing may be politically motivated, or reflective of the ideology of the presiding judge, or even warranted by the existence of certain factors which are ‘mitigative’ in nature; yet the consequences of such leniency are visible in the society. Retribution is often ignored in the name of reformation, which is not necessarily wrong, but could amalgamate into it. In light of this, a uniform pattern of sentencing is required to be done by the Courts, balancing all three aspects: Reformation, Retribution, and Deterrence. Sentencing, however, is a judicial act which cannot be dictated by an algorithm, meaning whereby, that uniformity rests on the shoulder of judges, and not the legislatures of the State. Although it is seemingly imperative for uniform sentencing guidelines to exist, there exist inherent conundrums which can only be found either by close inspection, or practical application. One such factor is construing ‘aggravating’ and ‘mitigating’ factors, which often are the determinants of harshness or leniency of sentencing. A straitjacket formula to construe such factors cannot exist; and if it does, it might be even more ineffective than the absence of the same. The need of the hour is uniformity in sentencing for protection of the rights of the accused, the victim, as well as the society; the only question is how?


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