This research paper seeks to examine the implications of homicides in Trinidad and Tobago. The paper is divided into three distinct sections; however, the author first makes reference to the current crime situation that has become an important and noteworthy topic not only for past and present governments but also the business sector and other key stakeholders. The first main section alludes to the implications of homicides as it relates to Trinidad and Tobago. These implications have been categorized as will be seen. The second section provides a critical analysis of the death penalty as a means of deterring murder while the third and final section explores some alternatives to the death penalty making specific reference to the idiosyncrasies that exist in the Trinidad and Tobago context.
Crime is one of the most crucial and demanding issues that can affect any nation state. It is something that most governments attempt to address by imputing millions if not billions of dollars annually in an effort to engage in a ‘war against crime’. Homicide is but one aspect of crime that has serious consequences for any nation state.
Homicide can be defined as the unlawful killing of one human being by another human being. It may include murder that has an element of criminal intent (mensrea) or on the other extreme manslaughter (involuntary murder). Homicide can also be categorized as excusable homicide or justifiable homicide.
Under the English Common Law system, murder was seen as a capital offence and was thus punishable by death. This still holds today in the Trinidad and Tobago constitution since there have been little modifications to the law with respect to this area of crime. It should however be recognized that there is much debate today with respect to the implementation of the death penalty or its abolishment as a means of controlling crime particularly for the crime of premeditated murder.
Homicide in Trinidad and Tobago
Professor Deosaran (1999) in one of his many studies stated that for the period 1987 to 1996, the average detection and prosecution rate for serious crimes was 27% while for 1997 and 1998, the average detection/prosecution rate for the same crimes reported was 32%. In addition, the author reported that overall, less than one in three reported serious crimes such as homicide reach the detection/prosecution stage. The author further stated that based on the number of serious crimes reported, the average conviction rate was 5.6% for the period 1987 to 1996, while the conviction rate for serious crimes prosecuted stood at 20.8%. These relatively low prosecution and conviction rate can be alluded to the current incapacity of the criminal justice system to effectively deal with the alarming increase in crime.
Police records indicate that almost all suspicious deaths in Trinidad and Tobago are recorded as murder rather than homicide. Thus the terms are used interchangeably and subsequently, the murder rate according to Hood and Seemungal (2006) is overly exaggerated while the manslaughter rate is substantially underestimated. In addition these records also show that only about four percent (4%) of suspicious deaths for the period 1998 to 2002 were recorded as manslaughter.
Since homicides and murders are used synonymously as identified by the author, statistics for the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service in 2005 has recorded the number of murders at three hundred and eighty seven (387) or roughly thirty-one (31) per one hundred thousand population (100,000) - one of the highest incidents of homicides recorded per hundred thousand population.
Hood and Seemungal (2006) in their study for the European Commission on the Death Penalty, identified the main categories of murders in Trinidad and Tobago. These include gang related murders, drug related murders, robbery or other named crime, domestic violence and altercation. The authors also identified that a substantial number of murders are deemed ‘unknown’ or ‘unclassified’. This is particularly true for cases where the murder was committed at a different location from where the body was found.
The main method of killing in Trinidad and Tobago is the gun. At present there is a thriving firearms business in Trinidad and Tobago with the increased inflow in the number of illegal firearms as well as homemade firearms in the country which is inevitably reflected in the police statistics in cases where weapons are retrieved. Second to the firearm related homicides is the use of blades, knives and other sharp weapons. This is subsequently followed by the use of blunt instruments and instruments used for strangulation.
One in ten cases that were solved by the Trinidad and Tobago Police resulted in conviction of the offender. At this point it is important to note that ‘solved’ cases are when an offender has been charged for the homicide. For the period 1998-2002 only seventeen percent (17%) of the six hundred and thirty-three (633) murders recorded, the offenders were convicted.
The much recent debate and pressure by the public to implement the mandatory death penalty has been heightened by the herculean increase in the number of homicides within recent years as well as the low detection and conviction rates within Trinidad and Tobago. (Hood and Seemungal, 2006). Following the same line, a number of committees were initiated to determine the viability of the death penalty in reducing crime. Such commissions included the Prescott Commission and Abdullah Commission which both concluded that the mandatory death penalty should be retained however given certain circumstances.
According to Newsday reports, January 2011 experienced the most amount of murders ever recorded in the history of Trinidad and Tobago murder statistics. A high of 46 murders was recorded for the month. The following are but a few case examples of homicides reported in Trinidad and Tobago.
On Sunday January 30th 2011, Vincent Bissessar, 19, was lashed with a series of bullets during a drive by shooting along the Blanchisseuse Road mere minutes after returning from a birthday party lime with his brother and cousin. It is reported that the vehicle slowly drove up to the three men and the occupants opened fire. Bissessar’s cousin and brother managed to escape however Bissessar was not so lucky. Police investigators believe that Bissessar’s execution may have been as a result of an altercation with a group of men while at the party.
After a four days gone missing, the body of eight year old Daniel Guerra was found in a ravine just off the Toruba Link Road. It was reported that Guerra went to a nearby shop on Friday and failed to return home later that evening. The final autopsy performed by an American forensic pathologist revealed that the boy had died as a result of homicidal asphyxia. To date, even though more than fifty persons were questioned by homicide detectives, no one has been charged with the murder of Guerra.
In July of 2010, the mutilated bodies of a mother and her youngest child were found in the Forres Park landfill in Claxton Bay. Their heads were found a week later buried behind a house in St. Madeline. According to Newspaper reports six persons were detained in connection with the murders. A twenty-two year old ex prisoner was subsequently charged with the murder
On March 7, 2010 an ailing grandfather was chopped to death by another male relative. His wife, daughter and grandchild was also wounded in the incident. Reports indicated that there was a domestic dispute between the family and the offender that resulted in the offender chopping the victim.
Implications of Homicides in Trinidad and Tobago
Homicides can have serious implications for the nation state. The author has taken the liberty to address these implications in three distinct categories. These are:
1. Socio-cultural Implications
2. Economic Implications
3. Psychological Implications
1. Change in Culture
One of the most note worthy implications of homicides in Trinidad and Tobago has been an apparent change in the culture. Previously, when homicides were not so prevalent people did not live in fear- fear that they may be a victim of crime. With the alarming murder rate- recorded at over one hundred for the year thus far, many people particularly the upper and middle classes have resorted to secure their homes and persons. There has been a substantial increase in the number of private security firms in light of rising crime rates with particular reference to robberies and kidnappings that in many instances result in homicide. The focus has become on protecting self, homes and businesses and other properties by installing burglar proof windows and doors as well as the installation of closed-circuit television (CCTV).
- Quote paper
- Danielle Logan (Author), 2011, The impact of homicides on the society of Trinidad and Tobago, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/207713