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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Malaysia: Let judicial discretion in sentencing lead to total abolition of death penalty

Screenshot from 'Apprentice' by Boo Junfeng (2016)
The Malaysian Bar welcomes the removal of the mandatory death sentence for drug offences and the restoration of judicial discretion in sentencing with the passing of the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2017 by the Dewan Rakyat on Nov 30.

We wish to recognise the government for having considered public feedback by amending the Bill and removing the requirement of the public prosecutor's certification of the assistance rendered by the convicted person, for the judge to not pass the death penalty.

However, there remain limits to what the judge can take into account in exercising his/her discretion in sentencing. Section 39B(2A) of the Bill, inter alia, requires that the court:

... may have regard only to the following circumstances: [emphasis added]

(a) there was no evidence of buying and selling of a dangerous drug at the time when the person convicted was arrested;

(b) there was no involvement of agent provocateurs; or

(c) the involvement of the person convicted is restricted to transporting, carrying, sending or delivering a dangerous drug; and,

(d) that the person convicted has assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside Malaysia.

We are concerned that judges are being limited in their consideration of the mitigating factors and circumstances that surround each case, before sentencing.

Such mitigating factors can include, and are not limited to, the offender's age, rehabilitation goals, past criminal record, the role played in the offence, mental capacity, reparations made, fear of another person, use of violence, the harm done to property or persons, and degree of cooperation with the authorities. The sentencing process is, and should always remain, within the unfettered domain of the judiciary.

We are also troubled that the determination on whether the death penalty is imposed rests upon an assessment of the convicted person's ability or willingness to assist in disrupting drug trafficking activities. A person's right to life is a fundamental right, not a privilege that can be revoked if that person is deemed not sufficiently "useful" to an enforcement agency.

The Malaysian Bar calls upon the government to further amend the Bill to enable those already convicted and sentenced to death to apply for a review of their sentence. Meanwhile, the government should officially declare and implement a moratorium on all pending executions.

The Bar also remains resolute in our position that the death penalty is an extreme, abhorrent and inhumane punishment. There are also provisions for the imposition of the mandatory death penalty in the Penal Code and the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, and of the discretionary death penalty in the Kidnapping Act 1961.

Finally, the Bar calls upon the government to act without delay to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, and to uphold the right to life, which is absolute, universal and inalienable.

Source: malaysiakini.com, December 5, 2017


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