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The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) found that Barbados’s violated Tyrone DaCosta Cadogan’s rights, guaranteed under Articles 4 (Right to life) and 8 (Right to fair trial) of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), when it sentenced him to death by hanging, pursuant to a Barbadian statute that requires capital punishment for murder.  DaCosta Cadogan v. Barbados, decided September 24, 2009, is the second time the tribunal denounced a Barbadian statute requiring the death penalty in murder cases. The Court considered for the first time whether a law that only makes a psychiatric evaluation available to a defendant facing the death penalty, rather than requiring the evaluation, satisfies due process requirements under Article 8 of the ACHR.

Article 4 of the ACHR requires the State to protect by law, every person’s right to life. Although Article 4(2) does not prohibit the death penalty, the death penalty may only be imposed for the most serious crimes, must be individualized to the characteristics of the crime, and must be subject to the highest standards of due process. In Boyce v. Barbados, the IACtHR held that Section 2 of the Offense Against the Persons Act of 1994 (OAPA) — a statute that requires capital punishment for murder — contravenes Article 4 of the ACHR  because it does not confine the application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes. The Boyce Court explained that OAPA did not classify different kinds of murder. Specifically, the intentional depravation of another’s life can and must be recognized and addressed in criminal law under various categories that correspond with the wide range of seriousness of the surrounding facts, taking into account the different facets that can come into play.

In Cadogan the IACtHR held that Barbados violated Article 4(2) of the ACHR by subjecting Cadogan to Section 2 of OAPA. The Court explained that OAPA’s mandatory sentencing of the death penalty is not limited to the most serious crimes because it does not have an approach that allows for a graduated assessment of the seriousness of the offense so that it will bear appropriate relation to the levels of gravity of the applicable punishment. OAPA’s indiscriminate imposition of the same punishment for conduct that can be vastly different is thus contrary to the ACHR’s mandate that the death penalty only apply in the most serious crimes. The State did not dispute whether Section 2 of OAPA violated the ACHR. Instead, Barbados argued that it had carried out measures to comply with the Court’s judgment in Boyce by abolishing Section 26 of the Constitution of Barbados, which prevented domestic courts from declaring laws unconstitutional. The State argued that abolishing Section 26 of the Constitution allowed courts to declare OAPA unconstitutional in the future. The IACtHR noted, however, that while it welcomed Barbados’s willingness and promises to comply with its judgment in Boyce; it would continue to rule against the State in future proceedings until the State adopted legislation ensuring that Barbados’s death penalty statutes do not contravene the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the ACHR.

Article 8 of the ACHR (Right to a fair Trial) requires States to ensure that every person has the right to a hearing with due guarantees and within a reasonable time by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal previously established by law. This obligation is most demanding in processes where the death penalty may be imposed.

In Cadogan the Court considered for the first time whether a law that only makes a psychiatric evaluation available to a defendant facing the death penalty, rather than requiring the evaluation, satisfies due process requirements under Article 8 of the ACHR.  During proceedings before the IACtHR, Cadogan was diagnosed with personality disorder as well as alcohol dependence; however, a mental health professional had not fully evaluated him during his trial in Barbados. The Court found that the State violated Cadogan’s right to a fair trial because neither the trial judge nor the defense attorney requested a psychiatric evaluation during the criminal trial, which could have allowed Cadogan to raise the defense of diminished responsibility.

While Barbados’s law provides that all criminal defendants are entitled to a full psychiatric evaluation by a state-employed mental health professional, the judge is not required to request or explicitly inform the accused that the evaluation is made available to him. The State’s passive conduct in Cadogan, the Court held, constituted a violation of the defendant’s right to fair trial. Even though the State’s omission may not have violated due process rights in other criminal proceedings, Cadogan’s case demanded the most ample and strict observation of due process because it involved the possibility of a mandatory death sentence. Also, considering Cadogan was afforded state-appointed legal counsel as he was indigent, the judge had the duty to adopt a more active role in ensuring that all necessary measures were carried out in order to guarantee a fair trial. The Court explained that Cadogan’s particular situation at the time of the offense reasonably required at least an assessment of whether alcohol dependency or some personality disorder existed, especially because the judge submitted before the jury the issue of the effect that alcohol and drugs may have had on the accused mental state.

Finally the Court held that the State failed to comply with Article 2, which requires States to adopt legislation necessary to guarantee the exercise of rights recognized in the ACHR. Barbados was ordered to refrain from promulgating laws that disregard or impeded the free exercise of these rights and refrain from suppressing or modifying existing laws protecting rights enshrined in the ACHR.  In this case, Barbados’s application of Section 2 of OAPA (mandatory death penalty), which contravenes Article 4, also violated Article 2 of the Convention because it fails to guarantee Cadogan’s right to life.

Cadogan is significant because it affirms that Barbados’s commitment to follow Court orders must be codified in law and implemented in practice before the Court will consider such actions to have a legal effect on the resolution of future cases regarding its mandatory death penalty.  Since the application of Barbados’s death penalty under current law may result in the arbitrary depravation of the life, it is important that Barbados’ inaction is publicly condemned. Cadogan can have a strong impact because it will prompt the State to take immediate and direct actions to comply with Court’s judgment and do away with its current mandatory death penalty legislation. Moreover, Cadogan’s broad and demanding interpretation of the State’s obligation to ensure due process to include the mandatory request of a mental health evaluation in a capital punishment case is remarkable in that it creates an affirmative obligation from the State not only to ensure that all criminals are able to have a free full psychiatric evaluation by a state-employed mental health professional, but that they are aware they can and may be required to have such evaluation prior to judgment.