Privy Council rules on imposition of death sentences on the intellectually disabled

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council today delivered judgment in the appeals of Lester Pitman and Neil Hernandez, two intellectually disabled men who had both been convicted of murder and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in Trinidad. The appellants, who have extremely low IQs and are classified as intellectually disabled, brought appeals arguing that the imposition of a death sentence on someone with an intellectual disability amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and is prohibited under the Trinidadian Constitution.

In its judgment, delivered 23rd March 2017, the Privy Council ruled that, whilst the execution of a person with severe mental impairment, is a cruel and unusual punishment, the courts are not prevented from imposing death sentences upon such a person. The Privy Council concluded that, due to the mandatory nature of the death penalty in Trinidad and Tobago, a court has no choice but to impose a sentence of death on an offender unless the statutory defence to murder on grounds of “diminished responsibility” has been shown.

Read more