Ending the death penalty
Execution remains the most severe punishment prescribed by the state for the crimes of murder and treason. The punishment of death is regularly issued in The Bahamas against those who commit murder. Treason prosecutions are virtually non-existent.
Despite the regularity of the issuance of the death sentence, executions are uncommon. There has not been a hanging in The Bahamas since David Mitchell was executed on January 6, 2000. In the 1993 Pratt and Morgan ruling, Her Majesty’s Privy Council ruled that it would be cruel and inhuman to execute a murder convict more than five years after the death sentence was issued. This ruling slowed the execution process. Murder trials take a long time to come up in this country and the appeals process after the death sentence is issued also takes years. The country hanged 50 men since 1929, according to records kept at Her Majesty’s Prison. Thirteen were hanged under the 25-year rule of the Pindling government(1967-1992); five of them were hanged under the first two Ingraham administrations(1992-2002); and the remainder were executed between 1929 and 1967. In 2006, the Privy Council also issued a ruling stating that the section of the Penal Code requiring a sentence of death be passed on any defendant convicted of murder”should be construed as imposing a discretionary and not a mandatory sentence of death.”
Five years after the first murder convict was sentenced to hang by a judge, using her discretion(then Supreme Court Justice Anita Allen), it appears that Maxo Tido will never be executed for the gruesome murder of a teenage girl. His appeal against his conviction and sentence was scheduled to be heard by the Privy Council yesterday. He was convicted on March 20, 2006 of the 2002 murder of 16-year-old Donnell Conover. In 12 days, it will be five years since Tido was sentenced to death and his matter was yesterday still in court.
The government has acknowledged that hangings are unlikely considering the five-year rule and the amount of time it takes for the appeals process to take place. However, despite this acknowledgment, capital punishment remains the legal punishment.
This commentary is not intended to offer an opinion on whether or not capital punishment is a fair or reasonable punishment. We have expressed our views on capital punishment in another editorial in this paper and remain steadfast that capital punishment is not an appropriate remedy. It serves no useful purpose. What is clear is that even though it is the law of the land, it is virtually impossible for the death sentence to be carried out. Appeals against the sentence add to the backlog of cases before various courts.
If the five-year rule remains, we need to end the death penalty for practical reasons. The appeals waste time and money. Anecdotally, the majority of Bahamians appear in favor of executions. This includes many of the powerful and vocal Christian clerics. Successive governments, it seems, fear even raising the issue of ending the death penalty. As we all consider ways to reduce the number of matters before the court in order to make the criminal justice system more efficient, we must put this issue up for debate. Emotionalism is useless. The facts are the facts. Hangings, though desired by many, are unlikely to occur.
We must now at least start the discussion of the post-hanging period in The Bahamas. New laws are needed creating categories of murder. A proper definition of life in prison must also be brought forward along with a proper system of parole. These are the issues that need to be debated when it comes to dealing with those who murder. As long as the Privy Council rule remains in effect, murderers will appeal and appeal until the time for execution has past. We must be realistic and accept that the days of execution in The Bahamas are over. Our laws ought to reflect this reality.