Owing to an error-prone judiciary, many convicts would be wrongfully executed once Congress revives the death penalty, a pro-life lawmaker warned on Sunday.
“We’re afraid the rate of wrongful executions could even be higher than that during President [Joseph] Estrada’s administration,” Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said in a statement.
Atienza made the statement shortly after House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said Congress would comply with President Rodrigo Duterte’s wish to make passage of a new law restoring capital punishment a priority.
During Estrada’s administration, seven convicts were put to death, and at least one of them was later found unjustly killed, implying a 15 percent wrongful execution rate, according to the congressman.
In 2006, then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban stunned the nation when he belatedly disclosed that the Supreme Court blundered when it caused the mistaken execution of Leo Echegaray in 1999.
The case against Echegaray had a fatally defective rape charge sheet, according to Panganiban.
He said the criminal complaint never alleged that Echegaray was the father, stepfather or grandfather of the victim–the qualifying condition for a death sentence.
In previous instances wherein the accused was found guilty of a capital offense that was never alleged in the charge sheet, the Supreme Court either acquitted the death convict, ordered a retrial or reduced the sentence to life in prison.
“Our trial courts are error-prone because they are run by fallible mortals and many judges are overworked, susceptible to corruption or recklessness or simply inept,” Atienza said.
“In fact, the last time we experimented on capital punishment, up to 65 percent of death verdicts were found to be erroneous, resulting in acquittals, retrials or the imposition of lighter sentences upon automatic review by the Supreme Court,” he added.
Even the Supreme Court is capable of blunders, as evidenced by Echegaray’s case, Atienza said.
“Here lies the big difference between executing a convict and putting him behind bars for life. If we imprison a convict and he is later exonerated, we can still set him free. We can still correct the mistake. In capital punishment, we cannot rectify the error once the convict has been put to death,” he noted.
“The death penalty does not serve any purpose that is not already being served by the punishment of life in prison,” he added.
The Duterte administration would achieve far more in suppressing rampant crime if it concentrated on purging the criminal justice system of corruption, and on improving the capabilities of law enforcement agencies, the prosecution service, the judiciary and the prisons, Atienza said.