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Jun 5, 2018

Examining Why Accused Murderers Are Applying for Bail

It has become almost a fixture recently in the newscast: persons charged with murder years ago, languishing at the Belize Central Prison, attaching legal representation to seek bail. The law makes no distinction in offenses regarding the right to bail. Nevertheless, it has been the practice by the Crown to oppose bail on very serious charges and even, at Magistrate’s Court level, to deny bail in certain circumstances.  News Five spoke with several defense attorneys about the matter today and as Aaron Humes reports, the decision is a weighty one that tries to take into account the emotions of all involved.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Nelson Henry. Warren Lewis. Tyrone Meighan. Orel Leslie. Daniel Myvett. Jedd Burgess. Micah Tillett. Matthew Moore. They have all appeared in the Supreme Court in recent months, seeking release from prison where they have been remanded for the ultimate crime – murder. Some, such as Henry and Meighan, have been successful. Others have not, or are still awaiting their decision. But two important sections of the Constitution, according to defense attorney Ronell Gonzalez, buttress their arguments.

 

Ronell Gonzalez

Ronell Gonzalez, Defense Attorney

“Bail is a constitutional right and it seems like sometimes there is some misconception as it relates to the public that once you are charged and arrested and imprisoned, that that should be the end of the matter until it is time for court. However, under the Constitution, section five to be specific, it gives an entitlement to bail. As you know the Constitution is the supreme law of the land – that is the most powerful law existing in Belize. And under that specific section, it mentions that when a person is accused of an offence, and he is arrested and detained for that offense, he should be entitled to bail if he is not tried within a reasonable time. Therefore, what seems to be the essence of all the applications of late is the timeframe of which it has been before the courts. And what is also important to look at is there is also a Constitutional right to protection of the law. Under section six of the Constitution, there is the law that speaks of everyone being equal under the law. Therefore, there is the very important presumption of innocence that exists to those persons who are arrested and charged for an offense, even if the offense is murder.”

 

Gonzalez has only been practicing for a year, but senior defense attorney Richard “Dickie” Bradley has seen it all in his time. He notes that Belize has come under some pressure from regional and international authorities such as the Caribbean Court of Justice.  More recently, the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, has called for the clearing up of the backlog by releasing persons of whom it can be proven that they will not be a danger to society or otherwise affect their chances of being cleared on the charge.

 

Richard “Dickie” Bradley

Richard “Dickie” Bradley, Defense Attorney

“What has grown up is that the prison is overcrowded; and whenever we get visits from human rights organizations – just some weeks ago, the United Nations Commission on Torture went to the prison; they were in a flurry to make things look good and to give the impression that all things are much better than they really are, and then you have lots of human rights organizations writing and complaining; then you can’t have, as we are having, hundreds of young men all remanded for murder can’t reach a court for trial. That is clearly a boiling situation that will bubble over.”

 

According to Bradley, the current judges in the criminal jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and their brothers and sisters in the Magistrate’s Court, have been taking a much more critical view of the delays in bringing cases for trial. In 2016, new Criminal Procedure Rules were brought into force to govern the management of criminal trials including taking of evidence, witness statements and the like. Sadly, the performance of the police department in investigation of murders, according to Bradley, still leaves much to be desired.

 

Richard “Dickie” Bradley

“We are releasing persons accused of murder because there is no reason to hold them in prison; and this is happening at a time when crime is at its highest. You are talking about we are one murder away from eighty murders so far this year; this is unprecedented. And guess what: is there any question being asked, what is happening with the investigation of the murders? The D.P.P.’s office can’t go into court and work magic. They have to present evidence and the facts. And if the investigators are unable to get the facts, you’re going to lose your case. So we need to know why is the investigative arm of the police not being strengthened, modernized, brought into the twenty-first century, so that those who commit crimes do not walk out of prison to commit another crime.”

 

So expect to see the parade of accused murderers to Treasury Lane and Regent Street continue. And while it will leave a sour taste in the mouths of victims’ families, Bradley, Gonzalez and Oscar Selgado say that is the price we pay for a civilized society.

 

Oscar Selgado

Oscar Selgado, Defense Attorney [File: March 6th, 2018]

 “I am not moved by the public; law is reason free from passion. And I have no regret in taking this case. This is my job; I’m a criminal defense attorney, I am trained for this. And one of these days when those casting stones out there – when the table is turned and one of them is accused of a heinous crime, I will be there for them too. So I am here for every Belizean that needs representation. And like I state, I am here without fear or favor; I am here with the law. Justice is about defending, just as it is about prosecuting. It is about applying the law to the facts.”

 

Ronell Gonzalez

“Of course, no family of a deceased person would agree to the alleged killer being released onto the streets and so on. But then again, it goes back to the fundamental human rights: the tables could turn, it could be one of those same persons’ family member who is then accused of murder, and who I think should have the same entitlements and the same fundamental rights as any other Belizean citizen, as any other person that is in Belize.”

 

Richard “Dickie” Bradley

“We must always remember: the law cannot be administered on a whim and fancy, on knee-jerk reaction and emotion of persons who we must sympathize with their situation, they have lost a loved one, many times to brutal violence. But a person’s liberty is guaranteed by the highest law in the land; your liberty is sacrosanct. Nobody can deprive you your liberty, except a court of law based on evidence and facts that you are not going to be allowed to have your liberty because you are a threat to society, or there is strong evidence that you committed the crime.  Who will argue with that?”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

We have reached out for comment to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions but up to news time, there wasn’t a response.

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