How to Get Away with Murder: The Ghanaian Edition by Sedinam Botwe

Just like any professional would do, let’s start things off with a disclaimer: The author of this piece does not intend this piece as one encouraging the commission of any crime, murder especially. As such, she will not be held liable for any crimes committed in reliance on this piece.

Murder is a capital offence in Ghana. And capital offences, as we’re aware are those punishable by death. The word “capital” here is from the Latin root word “capitalis” which means head and is an allusion to the practice of punishment by beheading.

Personally, I find it awfully ironic that the only means by which the unlawful taking of another’s life can be punished is by the lawful taking of another’s. Most people argue that a life is worth nothing less than another life and while that makes sense, it still in my opinion, does not justify the death penalty.

And just like Thanos, the only villain to effectively outwit the Avengers (at the time being), sacrificed Gamora, his only daughter for the soul stone with tears in his eyes, it makes Mother Ghana cry every time her wayward kids are sentenced to die because they took the life of a fellow brother or sister.

This might probably be the reason why even though the death penalty exists in our statute books; it’s been ages since anyone was executed. Other countries have gone ahead to ban this death penalty, calling it inhumane and a travesty of a person’s fundamental human rights. The death penalty issue is a discussion for another day.

Murder is not something that people encounter on a regular basis, hopefully. But what happens when you’re faced with a situation that could easily end up in murder? How do you get away with murder literally? Is it possible to successfully get away with murder like Annalise Keating and her special group of 5 so far?

You might be surprised but in Ghana, it is entirely possible to get away scot-free with murder. And you don’t even have to put in as much as effort as Annalise and her students. But yes, you’re going to have to be super careful about how you commit the murder.

The law allows for a variety of circumstances under which a person is allowed to kill another and get away scot-free. But in even in those cases, two special principles must apply; necessity and proportionality. These cases are explained in the Criminal Offences Act under Chapter One of Part Two of the Act and are collectively captioned as Justifiable Force and Harm.

This discussion would consider in-depth, cases of self-defence. Section 37 of the Act provides that a person may use force or harm that is reasonably necessary for self-defence. This force or harm may extend to killing only in cases of extreme necessity. This provision in the Act has been carefully considered by courts in the cases of Lamptey alias Morocco and Yeboah v the State.

It sounds only rational that the law would recognize the innate primal need for self-preservation. Nobody wants to die. Everyone wants to do whatever it will take to stay alive, including killing the one trying to kill you.

The law however put limits on how this can apply by prescribing the limits of necessity and proportionality. In Section 32 of the Act, the law states that even though a person may use force in a way that falls under the justified circumstances in the Act, that use of force will not be justified if it is not reasonably necessary or is in excess relating to that matter.

This is where most people fall short. In the case of Torto v the Republic, where the appellant had stabbed the deceased in the course of an unlawful fight, the court held that this use of force could not be justified in the name of self-defence, simply because it was not “reasonably necessary.”

The courts have over time formulated a duty to retreat in such situations. Where a person is faced with a situation in which his/her life seems to be under danger, the law expects that he/she should at least retreat as much as possible before trying to defend oneself.

In Torto’s case, the court recognized the fact that there was a duty on the appellant to flee from the fight he was engaged in with the deceased. Furthermore, the deceased wasn’t pursuing him in the first place and neither was his life under imminent danger. The evidence showed that had the appellant decided to abandon the fight, there was no way the deceased would have attacked him. In that light, his act of stabbing would not fall under self-defence.

In the case of Yeboah v the State, the appellant also failed to establish that he had acted in self-defence. This was because, he had repeatedly slashed the deceased with a cutlass when he could have easily escaped from the whole situation. The court stated expressly that for the defence of self-defence to apply in a situation, that person must have had no other means of saving his own life aside killing his assailant. The killing must have been done in a case of extreme necessity.

One of the very few to successfully establish the plea of self-defence was Nartey in the case of Nartey v the Republic. In his case, he was attacked by the deceased with a stick and a cutlass and got hurt in an attempt to disarm him. On realising that the deceased had become more aggressive, the appellant also struck at him with a cutlass and ran for help. On his way, he fell unconscious due to the loss of blood.

The Court of Appeal held that the appellant in this case had acted in a way that was reasonably necessary to save his own life looking at the evidence.

So in summary, to get away with murder, you’ll first have to be pursued or attacked. Then you’ll have to try to retreat from the situation. Where that doesn’t work, you must strike once and as hard as you can. Then you hope for the best and plead self-defence.

Just as a reminder though, please don’t try this until you absolutely have to do so.