Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Federal Government gets wake-up call on 600 death row Nigerians in Asia

Nigeria flag
The Legal Assistance and Defence Project (LEDAP) has berated the Federal Government for not showing interest in the plight of over 600 Nigerians on death row in foreign countries.

The National Coordinator of LEDAP, Mr. Chino Obiagwu, expressed this concern during a media chat in Lagos on the occasion of the World Day Against the Use of the Death Penalty.

The theme of this year's World Day Against the Use of the Death Penalty is "Poverty and the Death penalty".

Obiagwu said while there is a growing concern by rights activists over the rising number of Nigerians who are awaiting execution in South-East Asian countries for various offences, the Nigerian government hasn't paid any attention to their plight.

He pointed out that the number of Nigerians, who are facing the death penalty in foreign countries, most of which are for drugs-related offences was startling.

600 Nigerians condemned to death

According to him, "South-East Asia alone, has over 600 Nigerians who have been condemned to death, and are awaiting execution in various prisons".

He said: "Why this is a worrisome development that deserves the attention of the Federal Government of Nigeria, most of the convicts never had the benefit of proper legal representation.They were therefore, subjected to summary trials and convicted and sentenced to death, without being given the benefit of legal counsel".

The National Coordinator of LEDAP contended that abolition of death penalty in law and practice, should be the desire of the government, "as death penalty is cruel and inhumane treatment, and has no place in modern society".

He lamented that the application of the death penalty is discriminatory in the country as it has become a punishment exclusive to the poor in society.

LEDAP contended that the reason for the discriminatory outlook, is due to the fact that the rich have the resources to settle the police or afford the best lawyers, who ensure that they are not convicted.

He remarked that because of the firm belief of the group on abolition of death penalty, LEDAP has continually fought legal battles with the federal and state governments, on the need to ensure that fundamental rights of citizens are safe-guarded and the death penalty is abolished.

He said within the last 2 years, the group has secured acquittal for 18 death row inmates in different prisons in the country on appeal, a development which he said lend credence to the unreliability of the criminal justice delivery system, on capital offences.

The group urged state governors not to sign any death warrants, as it constitutes state murder.

"With the high number of criminal convictions overturned on appeal, continued execution is risky, as innocent people may be wrongfully killed.

"LEDAP strongly believes that in its practical application, the death penalty is discriminatory, as there is hardly any rich or influential person in society, who is sentenced to death", he added.

Source: thenationonlineng.net, November 7, 2017

Nigeria: Experts Divided Over 2,194 Death Row Prison Inmates

GallowsThe 2,194 death row inmates in Nigerian prisons as at November 2017, has attracted divided opinions from lawyers and other criminal justice analysts.

In the Nigerian prison with about 70 % of the about 74,000 inmates awaiting trial, the number of death row inmates is about 4 % of the prison population.

There is the suggestion that the number is rising because state governors are not signing the execution orders, or commuting the sentences through the prerogative of mercy. Yet there is the view that the country's criminal justice system is skewed against the poor members of society.

Analysts are quick to point at the case of Emeka Ezeugo, alias Reverend King, as one of the few prominent citizens to be handed the death sentence. While others point to the application of the law vis-a-vis the gravity of the offence as the major factor responsible for the increasing number of death row inmates.

The Nigerian criminal law recognizes capital punishment for offences of murder, treason, treachery, and armed robbery, while some states have enacted capital punishment for kidnapping. Section 221 of the Penal Code and Section 319 of the Criminal Code provide capital punishment for murder, while sections 37 and 38 of the Criminal Code prescribe punishment by death for treasonable felony.

During the 15th World Day Against Torture recently, the Avocats Sans Frontiere France (ASFF) otherwise known as Lawyers Without Borders, said its records showed that most individuals "on death penalty row are from disadvantaged groups."

ASFF's Angela Uwandu, who spoke on the theme, 'Death Penalty and Poverty' in Abuja, noted that poor offenders cannot hire the services of experienced lawyers to defend them in court, thereby denying them their right of defence.

"Although the right for appeal in death penalty cases is fundamental according to the Nigerian constitution, most persons who have been sentenced to death are unable to challenge their convictions on appeal due to the exorbitant costs of appeals at both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court systems," she said.

"The death penalty is discriminatory and is used disproportionately against the poor. Legislations prescribing the death penalty will ultimately put the economically disadvantaged population at higher risk of death penalty. The death penalty is not a deterrent and is not a solution for crimes like kidnapping, as is wrongly assumed by several state legislatures," Uwandu averred.

In the same vein, the Executive Director, Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), Sylvester Uhaa, expressed worry over the preponderance of persons of poor background who could not afford good legal representation in the death row inmates. He also faulted politicians who believe the death penalty is a solution to crime.

"The argument that capital punishment is a deterrent to crime is flawed because studies in many jurisdictions show it does not. The death sentence is an emotional response to crime, an act of vengeance and retribution," he said.

"But in actual sense they are not because they fail to address the root causes of violent crimes in our society. More so a fundamentally and deeply flawed criminal justice system in Nigeria which lacks the basic elements of justice cannot demand the death penalty, as this would lead to the killing of innocent people," he added.

But the second vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Onyekachi Ubani, said the death penalty remains part of the Nigerian law even though most state governors have shied away from giving effect to the law. He explained that if the country wishes to remove capital punishment, that can only be done through the National Assembly.

"I am in favour of obeying what the law says. If the law says execute, you execute. For now, that is the law, so the governors must carry out all that is required for the amendment of the law in order to escape carrying out that responsibility," Ubani said.

He also agreed that the criminal justice system in Nigeria is skewed against the poor who have no money to hire good lawyers, explaining that they don't get the best from the pro bono services provided by some lawyers.

Also, human rights lawyer, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, said where the judge has decided on the law, he becomes 'functus officio' and only the state can now confirm that sentence.

"As our Administration of Criminal Justice System is, anyone found guilty should be dealt with according to the laws of the land and that is the core principles of rule of law," he said.

On the argument that death row inmates are mainly poor persons, Jimoh said being guilty of crime is a matter of social status, stressing that "even the society will not be secure if some of those genuinely guilty persons are released to the society. Definitely, poor persons without moral upbringing are more prone to committing crimes than the rich."

For its part, the Nigerian Prisons Service, through its spokesman, Francis Enabore, said it is focused on providing safe and humane custody to the inmates.

"It is the prerogative of state chief executives to either sign execution warrants or commute the sentences to terms of imprisonment for those that have exhausted their appeals," he said.

Source: Daily Trust, November 7, 2017

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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