For crimes whose punishment is a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years, sometimes the judge can decide to suspend the penalty. The suspension of a penalty, as defined by article 85 of the Penal Code of Rwanda, is a judge’s decision to wait to send the perpetrator to jail. Basically, this is lenience towards a person who has committed a crime.
Suspension of penalty only applies to those who have not previously been sent to jail or have had to do community service as an alternative for a crime whose punishment exceeds six months in prison. In other words, consideration is usually given to first time offenders and those whose crimes are not very serious.
The judge has to state the reason for suspending the penalty and has to provide a justification. For example, the reason for penalty suspension may be that the person is sick and imprisonment may worsen his/her health status. The person maybe the sole breadwinner of his/her family or the crime might be out of character for that person and they may have been provoked or they may have accidentally committed the crime.
Suspension can apply to all or part of the penalties associated with the crime. It is also conditional. According to article 86 paragraph one of the Penal Code, penalty suspension becomes invalid only if the convict does not get convicted of any felony or petty offense within a period of five years after the suspension of penalty.
This means that such a person has to stay well-behaved, avoid bad company and be a law abiding citizen. If he/she doesn’t behave and he/she commits a crime, paragraph two of article 86 of the Penal Code says, “the penalties which were suspended and those which have been subsequently imposed shall be combined and executed at the same time.”
Penalty suspension only applies to jail sentence and does not excuse an offender from paying the costs of proceedings or any other payments they have to make as a result of losing their civic rights. This is according to article 87 of the Penal Code. This simply means that sentence suspension does not protect anyone from incurring costs as a result of their crime.
When the period of time for sentence suspension is done, the sentence is considered null and void, and the loss of civic rights ceases to have an effect. The convict is free to live his/her life without fear of being sent to jail for the crime. However, even after period ends, it’s important to remain a law-abiding citizen because the law does not look kindly on repeat offenders.