September 17, 2011
With the death penalty now reserved for the most heinous murders, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham recently said that the government plans to ensure that persons who receive life sentences die in prison.
The government is expected to legislate what a life sentence means when Parliament introduces a bill to determine degrees of murder in October.
The new legislation is necessary to address changes in the interpretation of the law. Prior to 2006, murder convicts were automatically condemned to death, but now judges have the decision to determine an appropriate punishment.
The landmark Privy Council case of Trono Davis and Forrester Bowe Jr. held that the mandatory death sentence was unconstitutional. The ruling recognized that all offenses are not equal and should not receive the same penalty without consideration to the circumstances of each case and those of the offender. The Privy Council had made similar rulings in other Caribbean jurisdictions in 2002.
Ingraham told reporters last month, "We may have to determine that life imprisonment means life in prison, your natural life in prison, you won't come out anymore." Two murder convicts received life sentences this year.
Davis and Bowe, who are now serving life sentences, and Phillip White and James Newbold in 2010 asked the Supreme Court to decide what life means.
Senior Justice Jon Isaacs said, "I hold the view, therefore, that when a person is sentenced to life imprisonment by the court such a sentence contemplates that the convict spends his biological life in prison."
However, Justice Isaacs noted that the executive had the right to remit or commute the sentence or pardon the convict as an act of mercy.
The Court of Appeal supported Justice Isaacs' view later that year.
The appellate court said, "It was always the position that the executive determines, in accordance with the prison rules, that when a prisoner has served the retributive/punishment part of his sentence and in doing so, it usually gives credit to a prisoner for good behavior, in addition to the immediate reduction of (the prisoner's) prison sentence by one third."
Newbold, who was sentenced to life in 1991 after pleading guilty to a series of armed robberies and rapes, was released from prison last year. Lifers have served anywhere from 10 years to their natural lives, depending on the decision of the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy.
Despite calls for capital punishment amidst a rising crime rate, the last hanging occurred 11 years ago. David Mitchell was convicted of murdering Horst and Traude Henning, a German tourist couple, in their home at Treasure Cay, Abaco, in 1994. Mitchell entered their home, stabbed them, and fled in their vehicle.
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News date : 09/17/2011 Category : Nassau Guardian Stories