Monday, August 22, 2016

Abolition of Death Penalty


Speech by M. Kula Segaran MP Ipoh Barat on “Abolition of Death Penalty” organized by Amnesty International of Ipoh on 21st August 2016

Introduction

First and foremost I would like to thank Amnesty international Malaysia for inviting me to present on the topic of death penalty. Amnesty international have been in the forefront in highlighting the facts on the death penalty around the world and why it should be abolished.

 One of those worrying trends from this facts is the arbitrary manner in dealing with the death penalty and its lacking of proportionality to the crime, due to questionable judicial processes, and prejudices inherent in the justice system of the state, besides social economic factors that deprives the poor of competent attorneys to represent them.

The Malaysian situation on death penalty
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In Malaysia the number of individual currently under death sentence is at least 1,043.

In a reply to Parliament on 12th November 2014, the Minister of Home Affairs informed Members of the House of Representatives that there were 975 persons under sentence of death. Among these, 347 had filed for appeals (310 to the Federal Court, and 37 to the Court of Appeal), and 255 to the Pardons Board. 

 Prison Department Director Abdul Basir told the press in May 2015 that there were 1,043 death row inmates nationwide.

As of October 2013, 564 death-sentenced individuals had been on death row for over 5 years, representing just over 50% of all death row inmates.

In October 2012, the DPP commissioned Professor Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology at the University of Oxford, to design and analyze the findings of a public opinion survey on the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia. 

The survey of a representative sample of 1,535 Malaysian citizens from all over the country, was carried out by Ipsos Malaysia, a leading market research company.

The research was designed to elicit views on the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, murder and offences under the Firearms Act.


By using a series of scenarios it shows the extent to which members of the public support the mandatory death penalty when faced with the reality of having to judge whether the crime merits the death penalty. In the findings a large majority said they were in favour of the death penalty, whether mandatory or discretionary: 91% for murder, 74 to 80% for drug trafficking depending on the drug concerned, and 83% for firearms offences.


Concerning the mandatory death penalty, a majority of 56% said they were in favour of it for murder, but only between 25% and 44% for drug trafficking and 45% for firearms offences.This was basically in theory.


When asked to say what sentences they would themselves impose on a series of ‘scenario’ cases, all of which were subject to a mandatory death sentence, a large gap was found between the level of support ‘in theory’ and the level of support when faced with the ‘reality. For example of the 56% who said they favoured the mandatory death penalty for murder whatever the circumstances, only 14% of them actually chose the death penalty for all the scenario cases they judged.


This was only 8% of the total number of respondents. When interviewees were asked whether they would support the death penalty if it were proven that innocent persons had been executed, the proportion in favour for murder fell to 33%, for drug trafficking to 26%, and to 23% for firearms offences.


These findings suggest that there would be little public opposition to abolition of the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, murder, and firearms offences. Public support for the death penalty for murder is also lower than is perhaps assumed, so may not be regarded as a definite barrier to complete abolition.

Research on death penalty Overseas
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A report released by death penalty information centre on April 18 by the prestigious National Research Council of the National Academies based on a review of more than three decades of research concluded that studies claiming a deterrent effect on murder rates from the death penalty are fundamentally flawed. 

The report concluded: “The committee concludes that research to date on the effect of capital punishment on homicide is not informative about whether capital punishment decreases, increases, or has no effect on homicide rates.


Therefore, the committee recommends that these studies not be used to inform deliberations requiring judgments about the effect of the death penalty on homicide. 

There are also various studies done in the United States which highlights how the death penalty has been a used unjustly against the black community

Jurors in Washington state are three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than for a white defendant in a similar case. (Prof. K. Beckett, Univ. of Washington, 2014). • In Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence were 97% higher for those whose victim was white than for those whose victim was black. (Pierce & Radelet, Louisiana Law Review, 2011).

Since 1973, more than 150 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence. (Staff Report, House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil & Constitutional Rights, 1993, with updates from DPIC). 

From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3 exonerations per year. From 2000-2011, there was an average of 5 exonerations per year.of-defendant discrimination, or both. (Prof. Baldus report to the ABA, 1998).

Social and psychological dimension of crime dilutes the fear of death penalty
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The death penalty in Malaysia has been hardly a deterrent factor in reducing serious crimes. For an example the death penalty have not resolve the drug trafficking problems due to poor enforcement related to corruption, besides the inability of the Law enforcement officer to nab influential syndicates who has global links and their ability to pay a lucrative amount to drug traffickers around the world. 

In the case of homicide the rage of the moment of individuals whose mind is clouded, are not in a position to think about the consequences of his or her action that could lead to a death penalty.

Broader understanding of issues related to the Justice system

While there are legal dilemma facing the death penalty due to arbitrary processes ,there is a need to look into a broader dimension on whether a death penalty is the right choice of the State in addressing capital punishment. 

There is a need to understand that death penalty could never be proportional to the crime committed due to various factors in regard on how the crime was committed and the manner of how factual evidence was gathered, the social economic situation of the perpetrator who might not have the means to hire a competent Lawyer to represent him.

Government response to the death penalty

Being a member of parliament and the secretary of the PGA I have highlighted the injustice related death penalty in parliament. It is significant that Attorney General Apandi has stated that the government plans to review the death penalty on certain crimes . 

Former minister in the Prime Ministers department Nancy syukri has ensured me in parliament that there is a comprehensive review on the death penalty. This are encouraging signs that shows that the effort put by MPs and amnesty international, and concern NGOs is beginning to bear fruits.

Conclusion
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From the empirical research in can be concluded that the death penalty for crimes, does not stand the test of due process and proportionality between crime and punishment. Its so-called deterrent effect has not been conclusive. 

The survey in Malaysia and research done overseas shows there is lack of definite conclusions whether the death penalty in itself is able to deter crime, and the discrimination effecting minority communities when it comes to death penalty. 

The social and psychological factor of individual rage of the moment that blind an individual from assessing the implications of the crime is not taken into consideration by the proponent of death penalty.


We have to go beyond the reductionist mindset and take a broader dimension to solve violent crime in our society. The most significant aspect of the survey is, Malaysians in General would support the abolition of death penalty if the facts surrounding this capital punishment are disseminated through forums of this nature and role played by civil society, public intellectuals, and members of parliament. 

The media should play its rightful role in this education process of abolishing the death penalty. Let’s stand together and say no to death penalty.

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