Understanding the Law
April 1, 2005
Offences against the person

Murder (homicide) occurs quite frequently in SVG, much to the consternation of our citizens. There have been some four killings since the year 2005 started. All these incidents started with an argument and ended with the death of one person.

According to Section 159 of the Criminal Code, where any person who with malice aforethought causes the death of another person by an unlawful act or omission, that person is guilty of murder and subject to certain provisions of the Act shall be sentenced to death.{{more}} The proceedings are presided over by one of the two judges of the High Court. The Director of Prosecution examines and re-examines the witnesses on behalf of the crown and must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. He must show by evidence that there was an intention to kill and all the circumstances surrounding the act.

Where a person suffers from some abnormality of the mind, and it is shown by evidence that he has a condition of arrested or retarded development of mind, or that his mental faculties are substantially impaired that person may not be responsible for the death of the victim. His defence must however prove that by virtue of the section he is not liable for the death of the victim.

Anyone who causes the death of another in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation, and before there is time for this passion to cool, is guilty of manslaughter. Provocation is described by Section 162 and includes any wrongful act or insult likely to cause an ordinary person to lose self-control. If the jury finds evidence which shows that the person was provoked, it has a duty to determine whether it was enough to cause an ordinary person to lose his self control.

This is causing the death of a person by an unlawful act or omission. An unlawful omission may amount to gross negligence if a person fails to discharge a duty. Manslaughter differs from murder in that it is not attended with malice either express or implied. There was no time for premeditation. A person who is guilty of manslaughter is liable to life imprisonment.

In the past once a person was found guilty of murder, the death sentence was mandatory. Case law has now provided for mitigation to be done in a separate sentencing session in the presence of the judge without the jury. It has also made it mandatory for psychiatric and social reports to be done. Procedural guidelines were set down by the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean States, Sir Dennis Byron, in the case of Mitcham and others (St. Christopher/St Kitts and Nevis) in 2002.

The death sentence is final and for this reason every action is taken to make sure that the court does not err when it sentences a person to death. The Court of appeal will therefore review how the judge conducted the trial when an appeal comes before it. Counsel for the appellant will point out the defects in the trial and especially in the judge’s summation. If the Court of Appeal agrees with the grounds argued it will allow the appeal. This means that the appellant would have won his case and will be free to go. An appeal could be allowed but sent back to the High Court for retrial as in the recent case of Leonard O’Garro v the Queen. If the appeal is dismissed the appellant conviction and sentence will be upheld. Sentence could be reduced to life imprisonment. In the case of Yearwood v the Queen, sentence of death was quashed and a term of 20 years imprisonment was ordered by the Court of Appeal.