Upon the trial and subsequent conviction of an accused person in every criminal trial, the legal practitioner representing the accused person may rise to solicit for a reduction in the number of years of punishment meted on the accused by the trial Judge. This plea usually made by the lawyer of the accused person is legally referred to as the ” plea of allocutus “.
In this work, we shall examine the meaning of the plea of allocutus, when this plea can be raised in the court and the demerits of this plea with Nigeria in context.
MEANING OF AN ALLOCUTUS
The plea of allocutus is one that has enjoyed a judicial definition in the authority of LUCKY v. THE STATE (2016) LPELR 40541 where Muhammad JSC in his wisdom opined that; ” An allocutus is a plea for the mitigation of the punishment rightly deserved by the appellant for the offence with which he was tried and convicted accordingly. “
Also, an allocutus has been further defined by the Wikipedia to mean a formal appeal made to the court by the defendant who has been found guilty prior to being sentenced.
Finally, in simple and clear terms, an allocutus is a plea that allows the defendant to explain why the sentence should be lenient and why the punishment should be mitigated.
WHEN CAN A PLEA OF ALLOCUTUS BE RAISED?
Before delving to address the above question, it should be noted rightly that a plea of allocutos is raised only in criminal proceedings and trials. That is to say that this plea cannot be raised in civil cases or proceedings. Worthy of note also is the fact that this plea is raised usually by the presiding judge, the registrar or the lawyer representing the accused and this plea is being made by the lawyer defending the accused person.
It should be noted that the plea of allocutus can only be raised when the presiding Judge has passed judgment (punishment) on the accused person. When this happens, the lawyer defending the accused may rise to solicit before the court, stating why the court should cause a reduction in the punishment meted out on the accused and also why the law should not be strictly applied on the accused.
Pertinent to note is the fact that this plea is not a fundamental right, but a plea that can be granted only subject to the court’s discretion. This position has been judicially upheld in the case of CHIDI EDWIN v. THE STATE (2019) LPELR SC63/2015 where the court held that an allocutus is not a fundamental right.
DEMERITS OF THE PLEA OF ALLOCUTUS (NIGERIA IN CONTEXT)
Preliminarily, it should be understood that the plea of allocutus is a plea which is often time pleaded in Nigerian courts.
In this work, we’ve stated out three demerits of this plea and they are as follows:
1. The plea of allocutus takes away the purpose and aim of criminal law.
2. An allocutus, when granted brings about a negation of laws made by the legislature by the judiciary.
3. An allocutus bestows gargantuan discretionary powers on the Judge.
We shall examine extensively these various demerits hereunder:
(A) The Plea Of Allocutus Takes Away The Purpose And Aim Of Criminal Law
The primary and sole aim of criminal law has overtime been to deter, prevent, hinder and punish criminal offenders. This has been made manifest in the various theories of punishments which have been developed in time past.
We shall briefly hereunder address a few theories of punishment under criminal law and state how the plea of allocutus has operated to negate these theories.
The theories of punishment for consideration are as follows;
Deterrence Theory: The deterrence theory as a theory of punishment is one which operates to prevent or stop offenders from further commission of crimes. For example, whilst a criminal is in prison, he will be prevented from committing further crimes, even when he is out of prison or another punishment.
Incapacitation Theory: The idea of incapacitation is simply to geared towards the prevention or reduction of the possibility of future crimes by those convicted of crimes. This theory seeks to disable the criminal from further commission of crime through meting out of capital punishments and long terms of imprisonment especially life imprisonment.
Retribution Theory: This theory imposes punishment in order to relieve the indignant feelings of the public or it could be imposed to mark the level of revulsion with which the public regards the crime.
Having stated the above, it should be noted that the plea of allocutus at everytime pleaded negates these theories and aims of punishment as the Judge if compelled by this plea usually proceeds to carry out a reduction in the number of years of sentence the accused ought to serve. It remains trite that a person who commits an offence must be fully responsible and must serve the terms of punishment stipulated by the law. The theory of deterrence, incapacitation and retribution cannot be said to have taken its course when an offender is given a prison term term that is radically different from what the law has contemplated. It may further ocassion further injury on the accused especially in cases and scenarios where the justice he seeks is shortchanged.
In the light of the above, it remains our considered position that this plea takes away the theories of punishment thus forms a demerits and a harm our judicial system.
(B) An Allocutus, When Granted, Brings About A Negation Of The Laws Of The Legislature By The Judiciary.
We have noted already that this plea operates to reduce the sentence years of an accused person if successfully pleaded. This in effect bring about a disregard for the laws made by the legislature by the court which is a judicial arm. This happens where an accused who has for instance been found guilty and convicted for murder, given the plea of allocutus, has his punishment reduced from death to perhaps 24 years imprisonment. Where this happens, it becomes evident that there is no complaince on the side of the courts with regards to law made by the legislature, bearing in mind the fact that the duty of the court is solely to interpret the law and not disregard same.
(C) An Allocutus Bestows Gargantuan Discretionary Powers On The Judge.
It must be noted preliminarily that the plea of allocutus is one that is granted strictly at the court or Judge’s discretion as well as the extent to which he will act based on this plea is also at his discretion. This points clearly to the fact that with the existence of this plea, justice is almost left in the hands of the presiding judge of a criminal matter as he can based on this plea radically reduce the number of years of sentence an accused ought to face thereby circumventing justice and also disabling the theories of punishment. Furthermore, with this plea in existence, the judge may based on it act with every sense of bias, ill will and radicality as the plea falls totally at his discretion.
Conclusively, the plea of allocutus is one that has had an extent of practice in Nigeria as lawyers in most cases leverage on this plea to save their clients from serving the stipulated jail term.
It is hereby recommended that given the fact that the demerits of this plea outweighs its merits, it should be made inapplicable and non existent in our courts in order to avoid the abuse of it.
About the author
ORINGO, BAMIDELE GABRIEL IS A 300LEVEL STUDENT OF THE FACULTY OF LAW, UNIVERSITY OF CALABAR. HE IS RESEARCHER AND AN AUTHOR
For knowledge and Justice