EIGHTY-TWO death row inmates, who were sentenced to hang over two decades ago, but had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment, are to be re-sentenced with clearly defined prison terms.
Chief Justice Ivor Archie and appellate court judges Alice Yorke-Soo Hon and Mark Mohammed yesterday ruled that sentencing judges have a full range of sentencing powers available to them and a discretion to impose prison terms other than life.
Archie, who wrote the judgement, said: “There is no logical reason why the sentence of life imprisonment should be imposed carte blanche upon every person who has their sentence commuted. That is inherently arbitrary and potentially disproportionate.
“The circumstances of each murder are different and a court properly seized of the relevant facts would be able to substitute the appropriate sentence.”
The court’s findings were contained in its ruling in the appeal of death row prisoner Naresh Boodram, who was sentenced to death in November 1996 for murdering Anthony “Tooks” Greenidge and Stephen “Bull” Sandy in 1992.
In the ruling, Archie said the appeal was of significant constitutional importance in light of the current focus on restorative justice and prison reform.
Boodram asked the judges to vacate his death sentence and have him re-sentenced by the High Court, while the State urged them to follow positions adopted in the death penalty case of Charles Matthews, which was decided by the Privy Council in 2004; and that of Pratt and Morgan, which imposed a five-year time limit for death sentences to be carried out.
Boodram’s case will apply to the other death row inmates who had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
In his judgment, Archie said Section 14 of the Constitution allowed the courts to impose whatever sentence was deemed appropriate.
“In effect, we have kept in place a punishment that does violence to Sections 4 (a) and 5 (2)(b) of the Constitution, which has said that the delay in carrying out executions constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and yet have failed to fully grapple with the obligation to uphold the rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution,” Archie said.
Boodram’s case and the others were sent back to the High Court for them to be re-sentenced. Boodram was represented by Mark Seepersad, while Pamela Elder, SC, Wayne Sturge, Josefina Baptiste-Mohammed and Sean Julien represented the State.