French High Court Debates Trial for Accused Antisemitic Killer of Sarah Halimi Deemed Criminally Irresponsible Over Cannabis Use
France’s highest court began its deliberations Wednesday on whether to overrule a lower court’s decision excusing the alleged antisemitic murderer of a Jewish woman from a criminal trial because his excessive cannabis use supposedly rendered him mentally unfit.
The Court of Cassation’s hearing centers on the Paris Court of Appeal’s Dec. 2019 decision to excuse from trial the accused killer, Kobili Traore, because his heavy intake of cannabis had fatally compromised his “discernment,” or consciousness, when he murdered his 65-year-old Jewish neighbor, Sarah Halimi, on Apr. 4, 2017.
Traore subjected Halimi to a brutal beating before throwing her out of the window of her third-floor apartment to her death, screaming Islamist and antisemitic slogans as he did so. Nonetheless, the court held that Traore had consumed a “delusional puff” that eliminated any criminal responsibility for his subsequent actions, resulting in a furious and dismayed reaction from French Jews.
The Court of Cassation’s decision, expected in the next few weeks, marks the last opportunity to put Traore, now 30 years old, on trial. However, an unnamed source told broadcaster Europe 1 on Wednesday that France’s Advocate-General “will rule in favor of confirming the criminal irresponsibility of the perpetrator of the murder.”
Should that turn out to be the case, Traore will be held in mental health institutions until doctors deem him fit to be released back into society. He will also be banned from visiting the site of the killing and having contact with Halimi’s family for 20 years. No other penalties would be applied.
A number of media outlets pointed out that during his sole court appearance in Nov. 2019, Traore had admitted to Halimi’s murder and expressed his regret.
“What I did was horrible. I regret what I did. I apologize to the civil parties,” he said at the time.
Muriel Ouaknine Melki — a lawyer representing the Halimi family — argued that Traore’s admission made nonsense of the claim that he could not face a criminal trial on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
“How can we have a ‘discernment’ that is abolished, but the remainder of a conscience?” she asked.
Ouaknine added that French citizens as a whole had an important stake in Traore facing trial, as they would then be able to establish whether “the consumption of narcotics can be a cause for exonerating from penal responsibility in criminal matters.”
Ouaknine emphasized that French law more commonly mandates further penalties for individuals who commit crimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
“I want to recall that for several offenses, for example the crime of rape, taking narcotics is an aggravating circumstance. In willful violence, it is also an aggravating circumstance,” she said.