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Marcos Melendez v. The Queen

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Court/Judicial body: Belize Court of Appeal

Citation: Criminal Appeal No. 9 of 1994
Date: 1994 [no exact date provided in judgment or elsewhere]
Instrument(s) cited: Belize Constitution, Section 6(2) Indictable Procedure Code, Section 151(2) Criminal Code of Belize, Sections 102, 116(b) and 117

Case summary

Background: The appellant was convicted of Class B murder and sentenced to death. On first appeal, the appellant provided proof that he was under the age of 18 at the time of the murder and the court imposed a sentence of imprisonment at Her Majesty’s pleasure. The appellant subsequently appealed his conviction for murder.

Issue and resolution: Life imprisonment of children. Whether a sentence of imprisonment at Her Majesty’s pleasure is constitutional. The Court dismissed the appeal against the conviction. The Court held that the sentence was unconstitutional and imposed a sentence of life imprisonment to replace the sentence of detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure.  

Court reasoning: The Court found that a sentence of imprisonment at Her Majesty’s pleasure was unconstitutional on two grounds. First, the sentence violated the Belize Constitution’s guarantee to a fair hearing. The Court reasoned that a fair hearing includes both the trial and the determination of a sentence. Imprisonment at Her Majesty’s pleasure permits the Governor-General of Belize, i.e. the executive, to determine the length of the sentence, and not the courts. Second, the sentence violated separation of powers under the Belize Constitution. The Court reasoned that, while the Governor-General is given certain powers under Belize’s Constitution to modify or commute a sentence, it does not permit the Governor-General to determine the sentence in the first place, as this must be done by the courts. Accordingly, the Court held that Section 151(2) of the Indictable Procedure Code was invalid, that the sentence passed under the authority thereof was also invalid and that the sentence therefore had to be quashed. The Court also noted that juveniles who commit Class A murder would still receive a mandatory death sentence and requested that the legislature enact an amendment to the Indictable Procedure Code. Impact: Subsequently, in 1998, the Indictable Procedure Code was amended. Section 146(2) of the Indictable Procedure Code now states that life imprisonment, rather than the death penalty, shall be imposed if, at the time of the crime, the defendant was under the age of 18.  

Notes: In November 2010, the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative published a report end “Assessment of Juvenile Justice in Belize”. The report noted that Belize still imposes a mandatory life imprisonment sentence for juveniles convicted of murder and called for further reform of the juvenile justice system.

Link to full judgement: