Benedict Jacob v. Grenada

"Report No. 56/02, Case 12.158, Inter-Am. C.H.R., Doc. 5 rev.1 at 601, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.117 Doc. 1 rev. 1, 7 March 2003"
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Jacob was convicted of murder by the State and a mandatory death sentence by hanging was imposed on him in accordance with the domestic law of Grenada. Jacob and the deceased had been in a relationship and had lived together previously, ending their cohabitation a few months before the deceased’s death. A psychiatrist testified on Jacob’s behalf, explaining that Jacob believed the deceased and someone else had cast a spell on him and that he was in danger. The psychiatrist testified that Jacob could have been in a fused state, meaning he was in a state where he was unaware of his actions and unable to remember them afterwards.

Jacob appealed his conviction and sentence to the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal of Grenada, and the appeal was dismissed. Jacob also petitioned the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council for Special Leave to Appeal as a Poor Person, and the Council dismissed that petition.

Petitioners contended that Jacob was unable to afford a Constitutional Motion to the Supreme Court of Grenada to challenge his mandatory death sentence because he was indigent, and the State’s domestic law did not provide legal aid to indigent persons pursuing such motions.

With regards to admissibility, the Committee found that, in the absence of Legal aid, a Constitutional Motion was not an available remedy, and that the Committee was thus not precluded by Article 5(2)(b)(requiring exhaustion of domestic remedies) of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights from considering the communication.

In prior cases, the Commission had concluded that mandatory death penalty sentencing was not consistent with the terms of Articles 4(1)(guaranteeing the right to life), 5(1)(guaranteeing the right to have one’s physical, mental and moral integrity respected), 5(2)(guaranteeing freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment), 8(1) and 8(2)(guaranteeing the right to fair trial) of the American Convention on Human Rights (the “Convention”).  The Commission had said that in jurisdictions where the death penalty was retained, the death penalty may only be implemented through “individualized” sentencing. The defendant was entitled to present evidence of potentially mitigating circumstances, and the court imposing the sentence was given discretion to consider the whether the death penalty is appropriate.

Jacob was convicted of capital murder without individualized sentencing. The trial judge could not consider mitigating factors, including evidence regarding Jacob’s character or personal circumstances or evidence presented by the consultant psychiatrist who testified about Jacob’s state of mind at the time of the crime.  The Commission thus concluded the State had violated Jacob's rights under Articles 4(1), 5(1), 5(2), and 8(1) of the Convention, in conjunction with violations of Articles 1(1) and 2 of the Convention, by sentencing him to a mandatory death penalty.

The Commission also concluded that the State had violated Jacob’s rights pursuant to Article 4(6) of the Convention (guaranteeing that persons sentenced to death had the right to apply for amnesty or pardon). In arriving at this conclusion, the Commission relied on earlier decisions in which it had held that the process for requesting amnesty or a pardon under the relevant sections of the Grenadian Constitution did not contain the necessary procedural guarantees which would allow the condemned prisoner effective opportunity to participate in the mercy process.

Commissioner Bicudo concurred with the Commission but emphasized his understanding of the lawfulness of the death penalty in the Inter-American System. He reviewed the current treaties in force regarding the death penalty, the practice of American states (particularly frowning on the practice of the United States), the preparatory work of the Convention regarding Article 4, past courts' decisions regarding death penalties, the effect that waiting for one’s sentencing and execution has on a person, international standards on the death penalty, and the hierarchy of international and domestic law in terms of the death penalty.  He concluded that Article 4(2) of the Convention (permitting the death penalty can only be imposed for the most serious crimes and in accordance with law) had been superseded by other treaty provisions with the result that domestic law was prohibited from imposing a death penalty sentence.

“71. In reaching this conclusion, the Commission has identified a principle common to those democratic jurisdictions that have retained the death penalty, according to which the death penalty should only be implemented through "individualized" sentencing. Through this mechanism, the defendant is entitled to present submissions and evidence in respect of all potentially mitigating circumstances relating to his or her person or offense, and the court imposing sentence is afforded discretion to consider these factors in determining whether the death penalty is a permissible or appropriate punishment. Mitigating factors may relate to the gravity of the particular offense or the degree of culpability of the particular offender, and may include such factors as the offender’s character and record, subjective factors that might have motivated his or her conduct, the design and manner of execution of the particular offense, and the possibility of reform and social readaptation of the offender.”

“75. Consequently, the Commission concludes that once Mr. Jacob was found guilty of capital murder, the law in Grenada did not permit a hearing by the courts as to whether the death penalty was a permissible or appropriate penalty. There was no opportunity for the trial judge or the jury to consider such factors as Mr. Jacob's character or record, the nature or gravity of his crime, or the subjective factors that may have motivated his conduct, in determining whether the death penalty was an appropriate punishment. Mr. Jacob was likewise precluded from making representations on these matters, as a consequence of which there is no information on the record as to potential mitigating factors that might have been presented to the trial court. The court sentenced Mr. Jacob based solely upon the category of crime for which he was convicted.”

“84. In reaching this conclusion, the Commission interpreted the right to apply for amnesty, pardon or commutation of sentence under Article 4(6), when read together with the State's obligations under Article 1(1) of the Convention, as encompassing certain minimum procedural guarantees for condemned prisoners, in order for the right to be effectively respected and enjoyed. These protections were held to include the right on the part of condemned prisoners to submit a request for amnesty, pardon or commutation of sentence, to be informed of when the competent authority will consider the offender's case, to make representations, in person or by counsel, to the competent authority, and to receive a decision from that authority within a reasonable period of time prior to his or her execution. It was also held to entail the right not to have capital punishment imposed while such a petition is pending decision by the competent authority.”