France: 40 years since the end of the death penalty

| September 13, 2017 |
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Guillotine, dessin de Pancho
On September 10, 1977, 40 years ago this week, France conducted its last execution. 

Four years later capital punishment was abolished, thus ending the reign of the guillotine.

The man who was executed was Tunisian immigrant, Hamida Djandoubi. He was found guilty of torturing and killing a woman in Marseilles, France.

It's said that he lit her on fire, then strangled her and left her body in the countryside.

Djandoubi was believed to have been a depressed man who had lost part of his leg in an accident.

The case generated a great deal of attention throughout France. But despite Djandoubi's confession, the jury determined that there were no extenuating circumstances and he would go to the guillotine.

Over the centuries, there were many versions of execution, but the most infamous was the French guillotine.

The first person to have his head chopped off was highwayman Nicolas Jacques Pelletier in 1792.

The execution was considered to be a success and the guillotine was continued to be used on political prisoners, the highest profile being King Louis XVI on January 21, 1793.

During the "Reign of Terror" from 1793 to 1794 the guillotine was taking heads sometimes at a rate of 300 a day.

The last public execution by guillotine was in 1939.

Djandoubi was the last execution, earning himself a place in history.

Robert Badinter and the abolition of the death penalty in France


Robert Badinter
In 1965, along with Jean-Denis Bredin, Robert Badinter founded the law firm Badinter, Bredin et partenaires (now known as Bredin Prat), where he practised until 1981.

Badinter's struggle against the death penalty began after Roger Bontems' execution, on 28 November 1972.

Along with Claude Buffet, Bontems had taken a prison guard and a nurse hostage during the 1971 revolt in Clairvaux Prison. While the police were storming the building, Buffet slit the hostages' throats.

Badinter was the lawyer for Bontems, and although it was established during the trial that Buffet alone was the murderer, the jury sentenced both men to death.

Applying the death penalty to the person who had not committed the killing outraged Badinter to the point that he dedicated himself to the abolition of the death penalty.

In 1981, François Mitterrand was elected president, and Badinter became the Minister of Justice.

Among his first actions was a bill to the French Parliament that abolished the death penalty for all crimes, which the Parliament voted after heated debate on 30 September 1981.

During his mandate, he also passed several laws, such as:
  • Abolition of the "juridictions d'exception" ("special courts"), like the Cour de Sûreté de l'État ("State Security Court") and the military courts in time of peace.
  • Consolidation of private freedoms (such as the lowering of the age of consent for homosexual sex to make it the same as for heterosexual sex)
  • Improvements to the Rights of Victims (any convicted person can make an appeal before the European Commission for Human Rights and the European Court for Human Rights)
  • Development of non-custodial sentences (such as community service for minor offences). He remained a minister until 18 February 1986.

Sources: EuroNews, Wikipedia, Sept. 11, 2017

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde


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