Mashudu Netsianda Senior Court Reporter
A NEW law has set out parameters for the imposition of the death penalty on persons convicted of murder following the alignment of the criminal code with the Constitution.
The Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which has since been amended through the General Laws Amendment Act of 2016, sets out aggravating circumstances determining an appropriate sentence to be imposed on a person convicted of murder.
The law says capital punishment may be imposed on someone who kills while raping, kidnapping, committing a robbery or while illegally detaining a victim and escaping from lawful custody.
It also applies to those who commit murder while carrying out an act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism, hijacking or piracy.
Killing during unlawful entry or malicious damage to property when the damage was effected through the use of explosives or fire or in the event that the murder was preceded or accompanied by physical torture or mutilation are the other factors that can result in the death penalty being imposed.
If the murder is premeditated; or the murdered person was a minor, a police or prison officer, was pregnant, over the age of 70 years or was physically disabled, capital punishment may be imposed.
Section 47 (4) (a) of the new law reads: “A person convicted of murder shall be liable subject to sections 337 and 338 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, to death, life imprisonment or imprisonment for any definite period of not less than 20 years, if the crime was committed in aggravating circumstances.”
“For the avoidance of doubt, it is declared that the circumstances enumerated in subsections (2) and (3) as being aggravating are not exhaustive, and the court may find other circumstances in which a murder is committed to aggravating for the purpose of imposing a death penalty.”
According to section 48 (2) of the Constitution, a law may permit the death penalty to be imposed only on a person convicted of murder committed in aggravating circumstances.
The supreme law says individuals cannot be deprived of their lives unless a court sentences them to death for a criminal offence.
The capital punishment cannot be carried out on women and to persons under 21 years when the crime was committed, or on those over 70 years of age.
Those sentenced to death are entitled to automatic appeal at the Supreme Court, and according to Section 31 of the Constitution, the President has the power to pardon or commute the sentences of anyone convicted of a criminal offence by exercising the prerogative of mercy.
The death penalty is usually imposed when extenuating circumstances are absent. Zimbabwe has 117 inmates on death row at a time the country does not have a hangman.