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Why do murder suspects undergo psychiatric evaluations?

By Joachim Bwana | October 19th 2020

A court in Mombasa has ordered Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa who is facing murder charges to be detained until October 22 in order to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

But are such evaluations law or judicial tradition?

Jumwa and her co-accused Geoffrey Otieno have been detained at Port Police Station in Mombasa County.

This order comes after the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji approved murder and assault charges against her on Wednesday last week.

Sources within the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) last week told The Standard that investigators and prosecutors were ready to sustain a trial linking her and her aide, Geoffrey Otieno to the killing of a man in Kilifi County on October 15 last year.

Traditionally in Kenya under the criminal justice system, a suspect has to undergo a psychiatric test before pleading to murder charges.

Senior lawyers, however say this is not mandatory under the Criminal Procedure Code, CPC.

According to senior lawyers Jared Magola and Gikandi Ngibuini, the psychiatric test is mandatory for all High Courts handling murder cases in order to ensure a suspect has the capacity to plead to murder charges.

Magolo however, argues that the mental evaluation of murder suspects, a creation of the High Court, has become a tradition and he has handled several cases where it was never a condition for plea-taking.

There however have been different views on what happens when a suspect is found to be insane upon taking a psychiatrist test.

A section of lawyers says that if a suspect turns out to be insane, they will not take plea and there will be no trial and instead will be committed for treatment at a mental facility.

Other lawyers also say that if one is found to be insane, the trial will proceed and if found guilty, the judgment will indicate guilty but insane.

The accused will, under such circumstances, be confined to a mental facility where he will undergo treatment until the doctors approve his sanity.

If the suspect is proved to be sane by the doctors, the DPP shall inform the court if they want to proceed with the charges or not.

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