Before punishment for a crime is prescribed, there are a number of factors which are put into consideration. According to article 49 of the Penal Code of Rwanda, a judge considers the gravity of the crime, the consequences, the motivation for committing the crime, the criminal’s past record, and the situation under which the crime was committed.
The aforementioned factors fall into two categories; aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances. Aggravating circumstances, according to article 51 of the Penal Code of Rwanda, increase the seriousness of the crime.
For instance, if a person who was previously convicted of a crime reoffends, this is known as recidivism and the convict receives a maximum penalty, or in some cases, gets double the punishment. This is according to article 52 of the Penal Code of Rwanda. Recidivism for felonies occurs any time while recidivism for misdemeanors is set at five years after conviction of a crime.
However, article 53 of the Penal Code of Rwanda says that a person is not considered to be a repeat offender if the previous offense is petty. It is also not considered recidivism if the crime previously committed was removed by amnesty or rehabilitation.
The age of a person who has committed an offence is another thing which is put under consideration before sentencing. Criminal liability begins at the age of 14. However, a child between the age of 14 and 18 years receives special consideration.
In this regard, article 54 of the Penal Code of Rwanda prescribes a reduced punishment for a convict who is at least 14 but below 18 years of age. If the crime committed ought to result in life imprisonment, the child is given a term of imprisonment of 10 to 15 years. The general rule is that the child cannot receive a punishment which exceeds half of the penalty he/she would receive if he/she would be subjected to a fixed-term imprisonment or a fine.
The abovementioned arrangement also applies to an accomplice to a crime if he/she is a child who is at least 14 years old but below the age of 18 at the time the crime is committed.
Children below the age of 14 are not criminally liable. This is according to article 85 of the Penal Code of Rwanda. This doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for their actions as parents often have to pay for the damages caused.