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Published On: Mon, Jun 29th, 2020

The Criminal Justice System and unintended consequence of the crime of passion

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By Funmi Afolabi

Women have been on the receiving end in cases of domestic violence for a long time but thankfully in recent times, there are lots of groups trying to create awareness on various issues affecting them in this respect in the country.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines justice as the maintenance or administration of what is just, especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.
Administration of law is the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity. Justice is the quality of being just, impartial, or fair.
However, in making a decision that will serve the cause of justice, it is important to take into consideration the significant factors of all affected parties, the victim, the accused, their families (children), and possibly their background.
In common law countries, the purpose of criminal law is to ensure that an individual accused of a crime receives a fair and impartial evaluation of the situation in order to determine whether he/she is guilty.
A criminal trial is designed to resolve the accusation brought usually by the government, represented by lawyers (known as the public prosecutor) against the person accused of a crime. For example, Armed Robbery, Murder, treason, Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, and other crimes against the state or other citizens.
The Criminal Procedure provides rules for criminal trials and in Nigeria, the Criminal Code and the Penal Code are the applicable laws.
There have been a lot of issues of Domestic violence cases that never made it to court, and in the past, women have been on the receiving end of this injustice.
In Nigeria, because of some of our cultural beliefs, some women whose husband died intestate (without writing a will) may end up losing everything because someone from the husband’s family may accuse the wife of killing the husband. Subsequently, they come in and take over the deceased‘s property, leaving the woman to figure out how to take care of her children. Although this was rampant in the past, it probably is still happening. The question is where should such children go to get Justice or even the wife that may not know anything about the death of the husband?
In a country where we do not have a good social welfare system, no good affordable public health system, and no good foster care system! How then can children who find themselves in this type of sad situation that is not of their making, receive what is due to them under the justice system?
Nigeria is a society where when the husband abuses the wife emotionally and physically, and the women are counseled to be patient, after all, her father probably did the same to her mother, and she endured it and that is why she is still with her husband. She endured it because of her children. (Yes she did, but at what cost)? So she, the daughter too must endure and pray that God gives the man a change of heart!
It is a different age; a different generation and such counsel seem to be failing terribly. Even with respect to our faith, people are also counseled to endure emotional and sometimes physical abuse because God hates divorce. And it is true especially for Christians because the Scriptures say so in Malachi 2:16.
Nevertheless, how do we handle cases of irrational anger, domestic violence, and emotional abuse, and so on, while trying to be obedient to our elders and pastors/clerics that have good intentions for the success of homes and marriages?
This is the age where social media is doing a lot of damage to marriages/ relationships, people’s lives, and reputation if things are not properly managed.
In the Maryam Sanda case, social media and our new found love for technology have different roles to play in the tragedy. She is accused and found guilty of stabbing her husband to death. In the legal system of every common law country, once a person is found guilty of an offense that has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, they are sentenced to serve whatever punishment is commensurate or prescribed by law for the offense. However, in this case, there is what can be said to be mitigating circumstances, in the form of two human beings, the couple’s children.
The type of family system we have, in which grandparents and other family members can pitch in to help raise children is noteworthy but not the ideal situation.
Children need their parents! If one is unavoidably absent, the other can comfort them. Psychologists and Sociologists, therapists, and mental health workers agree that there is always a vacuum in the lives of children who grow up missing one or both of their parents.
There are officers of the law involved in the case that has said that justice is served by the sentence pronounced on Maryam Sanda, but the question is who’s justice and to what end is justice served in this case?
Can we say justice is served when we have young children who are also victims in this situation? They have lost their father, and now the Nigerian Justice system has decided that they should lose their mother so that ‘Justice can be served’.
Again, let us remember that in this country there is a lot lacking in our welfare system, our health care system and a lot of provisions/policy changes need to be made with respect to the issues of our mental health system and general well-being of the citizens.
Is anyone saddled with the responsibility to carry out “justice” in respect of this case thinking of these children who will become orphans so that justice can be served? The question is ‘does she really need to be executed for justice to be served’?
She probably had no premeditated intention to kill her husband. Nevertheless, it happened, but by sentencing her to death and as such causing both families to lose a child each and the grandchildren to become orphans, would that by any means change anything or ease the pain that is ongoing with both families?
She has already sentenced herself to a lifetime of imprisonment with her conscience if she is allowed to live and take care of the children; she would someday have to explain to them what she did to their father when they are old enough to understand. The offense she committed can be referred to as a crime of passion in which case there are unexpected responses triggered by extreme emotions such as anger, jealousy, rage irrational behavior, and the like.
In prosecuting a crime of passion, the prosecution will need to prove that someone died as a result of the defendant’s actions. Furthermore, they have to prove that the defendant’s actions were the result of an emotional response in the heat of passion after being reasonably provoked.
On the part of the defense, they have to prove among other things that;
a) The act that provoked the defendant would have enraged or incited a reasonable person in the heat of passion and the defendant was provoked.
b) The defendant acted immediately in a fit of anger and did not really have time to calm down before reacting to the situation that caused the unfortunate incident.
One of the functions of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate the criminal so that he or she will become a productive member of society.
Merriam –Webster Dictionary of Law defines rehabilitation as the process by which a convicted criminal defendant is restored to a useful and constructive place in the society through therapy, job, training, and other forms of counseling.
Therefore, is it possible that the justice system can rehabilitate this Maryam Sanda, so that she also, maybe someday give back to the society by educating young women on how to handle marital issues so that it will not lead to a crime of passion?
By carrying out the death penalty sentence on this young lady, the court/justice system will appease all the people that have been justifiably hurt by the needless death of the deceased. That is okay, but what about the children? And what else would it really achieve besides shedding more blood in a country that is already saturated with the shedding of innocent blood?
Women have been on the receiving end in cases of domestic violence for a long time but thankfully in recent times, there are lots of groups trying to create awareness on various issues affecting them in this respect in the country.
The question is, when will justice be done for both genders? When will justice be done for the poor people who suffer because some people are killed or died needlessly because the country lacks basic infrastructures?
When will justice be done for the family of some civilians that have been killed inadvertently during a peaceful demonstration by some of the country’s police officers and soldiers?
If we have a good database system, we will probably find out that more women have been killed, injured, or incapacitated or even sent to a mental institution as a result of domestic violence than men.
When this couple’s children become adults and they read about this case, will they think that justice is served by a system that directly or indirectly made them orphans if the sentence is carried out?
Funmi Afolabi, lawyer, author, and chaplain is the founder: ProjectMatthew25 Inc.

It is important to note that they will be growing up with the stigma of “the children whose mother killed their father”. Justice is served. Really!


The Counselor tried to plead for, mercy, saying “Allocutus” but the judge was recorded to have said “No Allocutus”. Allocutus is a plea of leniency made by a person convicted of a crime in mitigation of punishment a court may impose on him.

This is sad because as human beings, no matter what our faith or belief system is, we believe in the mercy of God, and we are all beneficiaries and recipients of God’s mercy in our daily living.

Therefore, why can’t we now temper justice with mercy for this young lady who acted probably in a fit of anger and provocation? Is it possible that they had been having a problematic relationship? She cannot be exonerated by any means because people cannot just get angry and go about killing others. But can she receive some form of prison sentence instead of death sentence so that she can hope to be alive and someday be there for her children and the children can get to know that they at least still have a living parent?

These children may one day grow up to study law and since young people are always so impressionable and idealistic, what would they think about the Nigerian legal justice that sentenced their mother to death in a world where a lot of Common law countries are moving away from death penalty as a punishment for a person found guilty of a crime of passion.

In the past, the English legal system allowed jealousy or provocation as a form of defense in crimes of passion. However, there have been some reforms so that justice can be done on behalf of the victims of this type of crime. However, in spite of the reform, the system still shows leniency in sentencing the accused.

In the article “Five years after the End of Provocation, jealous male killers still receive leniency” coauthored by Professor Jeremy Honder and Kate Fitz-Gibbion, it was noted that in spite of the law reform to stop allowing the plea of provocation in crimes of passion that results in death of a spouse or partner, that an accused person standing trial for crimes of passion can receive a more lenient sentence as a result of evidence and admission of guilt by the spouse.

As a result of their research, they found that in spite of the 2010 law reforms , English judges have continued to view sexual infidelity evidence as having potential to constitute grave provocation and justify a significantly lower term of imprisonment.

They cited the 2011 case of Haywood in which the defendant fatally attacked his partner’s lover. The defendant was found guilty and given a particular sentence, but on appeal the court stated that the case involved “the greatest possible provocation in non-technical sense”. And the defendant’s sentence was reduced to a minimum term of nine years.

In a country where local terrorist groups, kidnappers, hired assassins have unleashed their reign of terror on the citizens and some of these cases go unresolved and sometimes prominent people are victims of this evil, yet how many of the families involved have truly received closure or justice?

The justice system has failed the citizens in some of these cases. Remember the Chibok girls? What offense did they commit? Where are the officers of law fighting for justice for the ones still in captivity? How will they retrieve the years that was stolen from them, their dignity and pride, the trauma that they faced? Some damages can only be repaired; there may never be full restoration.

What has been done about the numerous unreported domestic violence cases that happens all over the country in which the victims most of the time are women who may be too fearful to report or even when there is a form of report, some of the cases are crushed because the victim is dead or powerless?

Why the rush to get justice in this case and forget about the fact that in bid to do justice, the children are being treated unfairly and justice is not really being served?

By carrying out the death sentence the court/justice system will appease people agitating for vengeance (If there are such people). But what else would the sentence achieve? It is a sad case all around. The two families have lost a loved one.

To all the interested parties in this case and to the officers of justice , it is imperative to think about the innocent children that will suddenly become orphans and will have to be raised by relatives because the criminal justice system carried out justice on their father’s behalf to kill their mother and deprive them of the only living parent.

Funmi Afolabi, lawyer, author, and chaplain is the founder: ProjectMatthew25 Inc.

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