Inter-American Court of Human Rights judgment of 10 May 2019 in Martinez Coronado v. Guatemala (Series C case No. 376).
The applicants were assisted in preparing a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Washington, USA).
Subsequently, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights referred the applicant's complaint to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (San Jose, Costa Rica). The complaint was then communicated to Guatemala.
The case successfully examined a complaint about the use of the death penalty in violation of the right to life and the principle of legality, as well as violation of the right to a fair trial.
The case appeals against the use of the death penalty in violation of the right to life and the principle of legality, as well as violation of the right to a fair trial.
THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE
The applicant and another person were charged with the murder of seven people in May 1995. During the trial they were defended by the same lawyer. In October 1995, they were both found guilty of seven murders. The applicant was sentenced to death by lethal injection on the grounds that he was a dangerous criminal. Under article 132 of the Criminal Code, which was in force at the time, the death penalty was applicable “if the facts and context, the method used and the motives used indicated that the perpetrator was highly and especially dangerous”. The decision did not take into account the evidentiary nature of the applicant's testimony, given that there were significant contradictions between his testimony and that of another accused. Following the judgment, the applicant's lawyer lodged several complaints, including an action de amparo in respect of the judgment and also asked for a pardon, but without success. In February 1998, the sentence was carried out by lethal injection.
QUESTIONS OF LAW
(a) Regarding compliance with article 4, paragraph 1, and article 4, paragraph 2 (right to life) and article 9 (freedom from ex post facto laws) of the American Convention on Human Rights in conjunction with article 1, paragraph 1 (duty to respect the rights) and article 2 (legal implications at country level) of the American Convention on Human Rights.
Article 4 of the American Convention on Human Rights clearly establishes a restrictive regime for the use of the death penalty, as can be seen from paragraphs 2-6 of this article. Such a regime marks a clear shift towards limiting the use of the death penalty to exceptional cases only. Its ultimate goal is to move towards the complete abolition of the death penalty among States parties to the American Convention on Human Rights in a coherent and irreversible process. Thus, the commitment to move towards total abolition became, ipso jure, a final and irrevocable decision. In addition, the abolitionist tendency is recognized in articles 1 and 2 of the Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights to abolish the death penalty. States are called upon to ratify the said Protocol if they have not already done so. These changes are in line with the abolitionist tendencies that are observed within the framework of the universal human rights system.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (hereinafter - the Inter-American Court) found that Article 132 of the Guatemalan Penal Code in force at that time was applied to determine the applicant's penalty. In this regard, the Inter-American Court considered that the use of the criterion of danger of the offender as part of the qualification of the crime and in the imposition of punishment was incompatible with the principle of legality enshrined in article 9 of the American Convention on Human Rights. The reason for this was that the assessment of the “danger” of the offender presupposed an assessment by the court of facts that did not take place and, therefore, led to the imposition of punishment on the basis of an assessment of the identity of the offender, and not the crimes committed by him.
The case violated the above articles of the American Convention on Human Rights (adopted unanimously).
(b) Regarding compliance with article 8, paragraph 2, subparagraphs c and e (right to a fair trial) in conjunction with article 1, paragraph 1 (duty to respect rights without discrimination) of the American Convention on Human Rights.
On 18 May 1995, when the case was being investigated, the applicant requested that a lawyer be appointed by the court in connection with his financial situation. The next day he was assigned a lawyer who also defended another defendant. Another lawyer who participated in the case later also represented both of the accused at the same time. The legal issue to be resolved by the Inter-American Court was whether the fact that the State appointed one lawyer to defend both accused at the same time was compatible with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights and, more specifically, with the applicant's right to a defense.
Article 95 of the Guatemalan Code of Criminal Procedure provided that “the defense of different accused in the same trial by one lawyer is generally not allowed”. The appropriate court, depending on the stage of the proceedings or the ministry, may authorize joint representation in cases where there is clearly no incompatibility. If it does exist, it must be corrected by making the necessary replacements to appoint a new defense counsel. "Thus, as a rule, joint legal representation of the accused was prohibited and was allowed only in exceptional cases where there was no incompatibility. The Inter-American Court considered that the state had the obligation to identify such incompatibilities and to take steps to guarantee the right to a defense, especially in cases in which co-defendants faced severe punishment, such as the death penalty.The Inter-American Court also held that inconsistencies in the testimony of co-defendants did not necessarily indicate incompatibility of their defense or a conflict of interest that would have prevented their joint defense.However, in the present case, the inconsistencies in the testimony of the co-defendants concerned key aspects of the applicant's account of events, and this meant that he was denied an essential element of defense. other authorities or side of the defense.
The case violates the above articles of the American Convention on Human Rights (adopted unanimously).
The Inter-American Court found that this judgment was itself a form of compensation, but the Guatemalan authorities were required to additionally (i) publish this judgment and its official summary, and (ii) pay certain amounts in compensation for non-pecuniary damage and pecuniary damage.