Local lawyer, Reginald James, while speaking on radio earlier this week admitted that though he has defended suspects on murder charges before, he however supports the death penalty for persons found guilty of such crimes.
James said if the penalty was abolished in the federation, he does not know what would happen, but if it is kept in place, it would play on the minds of some would be criminals, causing them to think twice before pulling the trigger; because they may not want to spend the rest of their life in jail.
It was explained that in years gone by, when someone was found guilty by a jury, almost immediately the sentencing judge would pronounce the death sentence but this has recently changed, not that the laws have been amended.
It was the understanding under the laws of the country that the death sentence was mandatory, once a person was convicted of murder, but today this is not always the case.
Today, convicts are given what is called a ‘sentencing hearing’ when a social enquiry report and a psychiatric evaluation are presented to the judge and the defence lawyer would try his best to offer any mitigating circumstances, to try to convince the trial judge, not to impose the death sentence. The crown or DPP however would present their reasons why the sentence should be upheld.
It was the lawyer’s argument that members of the public are of the view that the death penalty is a cruel and calculated form of murder carried out by the state, yet does not deter criminals nor reduce crime.
James reminded the public that the recently retired Chief Justice, Sir Hugh Rawlins, of St. Kitts & Nevis, has been known to declare that the death penalty should be imposed only in the extreme cases of murder.
A caller to the radio program also advanced the argument that society tends too much to demonstrate mercy for the ‘murderers’ instead of concentrating on the demise of the victims and the anguish and pain suffered by loved ones who are left behind to mourn their loss.
James indicated that under the new law which was revised in 2002, a person convicted of murder, shall suffer death as a felon, according to the revised Offence Against a Person Act but the lawyer said St. Kitts & Nevis seems to be moving towards the European style of justice where the death sentence is not imposed.
Section 4 and Sub-section One of the constitution of St. Kitts and Nevis, states that a person shall not be deprived of his life intentionally, save in execution of the sentence of a court, in respect of a criminal offence of treason or murder, under any law of which he has been convicted, quoted Mr. James.