The treatment of a man who has been held for over three decades on death row in the US and is now facing execution in a matter of days would be considered ‘inhuman’, ‘degrading’ or even ‘torture’ in a swathe of other jurisdictions around the world, legal action charity Reprieve can reveal.
Manuel Valle, a Cuban national with strong Spanish links, has been awaiting execution on Florida’s death row for 33 years, and with a stay set to be lifted this evening, could face lethal injection in a matter of days.
Being held on death row for such a long time has been described by the UK Privy Council as “an inhuman punishment because it add[s] to the penalty of death the additional torture of a long period of alternating hope and despair.”
Most countries that administer the death penalty agree that it is entirely unacceptable to subject anyone to such additional punishment before finally carrying out an execution. Examples include Kenya, Malawi and Uganda – where three years on death row, a delay one tenth as long as that faced by Mr Valle, can result in commutation of the death sentence.
The European Court of Human Rights has also held that where a ‘condemned prisoner has to endure for many years the conditions on death row and the anguish and mounting tension of living in the ever-present shadow of death’ that is a violation of prohibitions against ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.
Mr Valle has now spent well over half of his life on death row, having been sentenced at the age of 27. Much of the time he has served has been due to a series of botched trials resulting from mistakes made by the trial judge or misconduct by the prosecution.
Reprieve investigator Katherine Bekesi said: “Traditionally, the State has always blamed the prisoner, desperately trying to avoid death through his right to appeal, for any delays in execution. However in this case it was the State that gave Mr Valle two unfair trials and spent over a decade trying to correct their mistakes. For Mr Valle, every botched trial was another trauma as he was sentenced to death again and again, spending years in between wondering what was to become of him.”
Notes to editors
1. For further information please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office on +44 (0)20 7427 1082
2. Further information on Manuel Valle can be found on Reprieve’s website http://www.reprieve.org.uk/cases/manuelvalle
3. In Soering v UK (Judgment of 7 July 1989) Series A No. 161 the European Court of Human Rights held that where a ‘condemned prisoner has to endure for many years the conditions on death row and the anguish and mounting tension of living in the ever-present shadow of death’ that is a violation of prohibitions against ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.
4. In 1994 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council held that ‘there will be strong grounds for believing that the delay between sentence and execution is such as to constitute “inhuman or degrading punishment”’ where the delay is significant [Pratt and Morgan v. The Attorney General of Jamaica  2 AC 1, at 33]. In that case the delay had been five years. In a later case a delay of four years and ten months amounted to ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ where the delay was attributable to the State [Guerra v. Baptiste  1 AC 397]. The Privy Council also held that ‘execution after excessive delay [is] an inhuman punishment because it add[s] to the penalty of death the additional torture of a long period of alternating hope and despair’ [Higgs and Mitchell v. Minister of National Security (Bahamas) UKPC 55, at 40].