Twitter-generated Moral Panic and Its Effect on Pretrial Incarceration/ Bail: Contextualizing the Tale of ‘Folk Devil’ Aryan Khan

Published date01 April 2023
AuthorUpma Gautam,Priya Das
Date01 April 2023
Subject MatterReview Essay
Twitter-generated Moral
Panic and Its Effect on
Pretrial Incarceration/
Bail: Contextualizing
the Tale of ‘Folk Devil’
Aryan Khan
Upma Gautam1 and Priya Das1
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, which was enacted
with an intent to control drug abuse and prohibit its trade, has blurred the line between
the offender and the victim, particularly in cases of addicts. Nonetheless, the focus of
this study is the multifarious victimization of the offender: overcriminalization in terms
of measures, lengthy pretrial incarceration and increased sensationalism in cases of
offenders belonging to high strata of society, thus creating a moral panic. Incident of
victimization is juxtaposed with public concern solicited by the reporting of cases. The
stigmatization endured and the trauma suffered by the accused owing to the full media
glare strike on their innocence and violate their right to life and dignity.
Aim and Objective: A criminal justice system is an institutionalized means of ren-
dering justice. One of the virtuous traits of a criminal justice system modelled on
the ethos of due process is its attempt to achieve certainty and transparency in its
process and the outcomes. However, no institution is infallible as manifested by the
misuse of draconian provisions of the NDPS Act 1985. This study first evaluates
whether disposal of bail matters in NDPS cases is a classic case of overcriminaliza-
tion leading to the victimization of the offender; second, it gauges the impact of public
reaction depicting ‘moral panic’ of the offender in the disposal of bail matters.
Methodology: The study was conducted through a detailed content analysis
of the public reaction in the Aryan Khan drug case on the micro-blogging site
Twitter with the help of the content analysis tool NVivo.
Review Essay
Journal of Victimology
and Victim Justice
6(1) 108–124, 2023
2023 National Law
University Delhi
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/25166069231160433
1 University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Dwarka,
Delhi, India
Corresponding author:
Upma Gautam, University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha
University, Dwarka, Delhi 110078, India.
Gautam and Das 109
Findings: The outcome of the study manifests positive interrelationship
between moral panic and public perception, positive interrelationship between
moral panic and status of the person arrested which consequentially affects the
period of pretrial incarceration (denial of bail).
Criminal justice, law, society, social needs, Victimization, moral panic, drug use
If Herbert Packer’s analytical structure consists of two poles and the line between
them, then the Indian criminal justice system lies closer to the pole named due pro-
cess in terms of its practice and procedure. The due process model as opposed to the
crime control model, primarily focuses on individual’s rights and aims at limiting
the authoritarian power of the state over an accused in the criminal process.2 The
essence of due process can be found imbibed in almost all the provisions of the
Code of Criminal Procedureranging from providing safeguards in arrests3, inves-
tigation4 and, most importantly, in the matters of bail5. Bail is an important stage of
the criminal process for it has a direct bearing on the liberty of the accused.
Moreover, in the backdrop of the cardinal principle of presumption of innocence,
the police/court has to strike a balance between the individual right of the accused
and the interest of society as well as of investigating agency while granting/rejecting
bail. Bail is available as a matter of right in certain limited circumstances but in a
majority of cases in spite of the guidelines for the grant/rejection of bail in the pro-
cedural Code and in the judicial discourse, there is always a surrounding uncertainty
about the final outcome of a bail application.
Presumption of innocence as aforesaid discussed forms the fundamental prin-
ciple not only in bail applications but also of all the criminal law statutes, though
its degree differs from general to special legislations. For instance, the Narcotic
Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act 1985 which targets drug offences ripping
the socio-economic fabric of society has been contended to be modelled on
Packer’s crime control model with the singular purpose of repressing criminal
conduct in order to preserve public order. Therefore, the said legislation encapsu-
lates strictly worded bail provision, so much so that jail seems like a rule and bail
an exception, albeit disregarding the sacrosanct principle of presumption of inno-
cence. The tightly worded provision of bail coupled with the anomalous judicial
approach presents a complex situation. This legislative scheme and judicial
approach stem from the concoction of social perception and collective sentiment
2 Herbert Packer, tHe Limits of tHe criminaL sanction 165 (first published 1961, Stanford University
3 The Code of Criminal Procedure 1973, Chapter V (Arrest of Persons).
4 Id, Chapter XII (Information to the Police and their powers to investigate).
5 Id, Chapter XXXIII (Bail and Bonds).

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