Covid19 could affect death penalty cases

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President of the Association of Lawyers Sophia Chote, SC. – Jeff K. Mayers

THE physical closure of courts in Trinidad and Tobago due to the covid19 pandemic could have an effect on the handling of legal cases where the death penalty could be involved.

President of the Association of Lawyers Sophia Chote. SC. expressed this opinion during a virtual death penalty forum on Friday.

The forum was hosted by several foreign missions to TT, including the British High Commission and the French and United States embassies.

Chote said the association “has not yet taken a position on the death penalty or not”. While she is the association’s president, Chote said she does not speak on behalf of her board.

“I imagine this is an issue our members could be quite divided on.”

Personally, Chote has said that she is against the death penalty, a position she has maintained since 1989. After recalling that the last time the death penalty was carried out in TT was in 1999, Chote said said, “There are 44 people on death row in TT, according to my research.”

Murder remains an offense punishable by the death penalty, she stressed, “despite the fact that there have been recommendations to consider the categorization of murder, from public officials, including our Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) “.

Affirming that article 4 of the Constitution contains the recognized rights of citizens, such as the right to life, Chote said that a person can only be deprived of this right through due process of law, which includes transparency and the responsibility.

She said trials are normally held in public, interested parties can attend and can be reported in the media. Chote said media reported earlier this year that Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the government was not against hanging, but that certain processes needed to be “fixed” in order to apply the death penalty. .

Chote said that Al-Rawi may have said that “the delay between the indictment and the end of the legal process, ie the final appeal, takes a very long time.

In light of this, she added, “given the impact that the pandemic and the continued court closures have had on the TT criminal justice system… I think the system has slowed down considerably. “

Chote said the backlog of cases in the system, which was considerable before the pandemic, “is now expected to be considerably larger.” She said there were now people in prison awaiting their first trial in over eight years.

“It cannot be acceptable in any state or point of view.”

Chote added: “In my opinion, this is a challenge that we face in cases like these.”

Arguing a case in favor of retaining the death penalty, lawyer Israel Khan, SC, said: “I think the death penalty should be retained for willful, mean and atrocious killings.

Khan said he was one of those advocating first, second and third degree killings.

“No bond for the first degree, but a discretionary bond for the second and third (degree).”

He said the death penalty should be reserved for first degree sentences and detention for second and third degree murder, subject to parole.

Khan identified the murder of a person for money or people killed to prevent them from providing evidence in court as examples of first degree murder. Excessive use of force in self-defense or murder motivated by passion could be classified as second or third degree murder.


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