Monday, 29 June 2015

Criminal Responsibility: Eligibility For Punishment

According to the Nigerian  criminal code, to be criminally responsible means "liable to punishment as for an offence". Also, criminal responsibility means "liability to punishment as for an offence". In other words, criminal responsibility is what 'qualifies' you for punishment of any criminal act or offense committed.
The first part of this topic will focus on some of those conditions that exempts you from being criminally responsible for any offence committed.
Firstly, a person is not criminally responsible if
he makes a honest claim to a property (land, house, vehicle etc) he deems is his right without intention 'to defraud' anybody. Its only natural to claim what is yours. So a son whose father dies does not commit an offense if he claims ownership to any of his father's property.
In another case, I have heard first hand from people who have bought properties from 'verified agents' who claim they represent the true owners. These 'owners' show up on  request to calm one's curiosity and suspicion but they end up to be fraudsters. Many cases like that abound in Nigeria and one wonders how they pull that off. Most times, they disappear into thin air when the original owners show up or when the buyer begins to go to extra lengths to verify the authenticity of the whole transaction process. Often times, the victims of this kind of scam are the losers because the law is clear on such matters. They may only get sympathy and or efforts by law enforcement agents to track down the defrauders. Except when such fraudsters get caught are attempts made to recover what they have illegally obtained. A person who lays claim to the ownership of a property with the intention to defraud another is MOST criminally responsible of that offense. Hence he deserves the maximum sentence possible when convicted of that crime.
Secondly, you are not criminally responsible for a crime you did not commit, unaware of or that happened by accident while going about your legitimate activities. For instance, if you are talking to a friend who is at the other side of the street and a motorcycle rider plying the road suddenly falls off to the ground and breaks his head, loses blood and dies in front of you.
That was an accident. It happened in front of you. Yes! But no one should hold you responsible if he dies. Not even the police. You were just carrying out  legitimate activity by talking to your friend across the street! You are not criminally responsible by law!
Another situation that you cannot be held criminally responsible for is when you acted under extraordinary circumstances which you cannot normally do under ordinary conditions.
An instance is when you happen to hit someone's head(say a thief or anybody) whom you caught at 2.A.M burgling your house and decided to attack and engage you in a fight after you accosted him. Now, you acted in self defence possibly out of fear and the person eventually died. Under normal conditions, you cannot just intentionally kill someone. Know that even when settling scores, if your opponent should fall dead as  a result of the fight between yourselves, you automatically become criminally responsible. But if you acted on  self defence and most understandably out of fright as narrated in the instance above, you are not criminally responsible!
Therefore, it is important to know what makes someone criminally responsible or not for an offense. It is said that ignorance has no court of appeal. Hence claiming ignorance of what the law says concerning criminal offenses be it the public or law enforcement agents has no basis for consideration in a court of law.