It is understandable that the DPP and defence attorneys require sufficient amounts of time to build their cases. However, it is morally unethical and unconstitutional to detain someone accused of committing a crime for a lengthy period without affording that person a trial.
This is not fair to survivors of crime who are also held in judicial purgatory. Survivors of crime and their family members often languish in anger, despair and grief with no avenue for catharsis from these sentiments as the judicial system continues to disappoint them. For example, Eugene St. Romain, the man accused of the rape and murder of Verlinda Joseph in 2002, was remanded at Bordelais from 2004 to 2012 without being tried.
The Constitution allows an accused to be tried within a reasonable amount of time; certainly, 8 years should have been enough time for the DPP to prove its case. In this instance, Mr. St. Romain essentially started serving a prison term for a crime he was not proven guilty of committing. Meanwhile, Verlinda and her family experienced what scholars call double victimization perpetrated first by her attacker – whoever the individual may be – in a physical manner and then by the judicial system for failing to prosecute the individual they believed to be responsible for the crime.
As if we have not learnt from this unfortunate experience, Crystal St. Omer’s family is now experiencing this dilemma as well. Mario Perez has been charged with Crystal’s murder, which took place over a year ago. He remains at Bordelais, yet to be tried for the alleged attack and murder. Equally as puzzling are those charged with non-violent crimes essentially serving custodial sentences while on remand. Their acts of deviancy do not warrant imprisonment even when a judgement is issued against them. Therefore, it is not surprising Saint Lucians are at their wits end and describe judicial officials as apathetic when handling deviant and criminal cases.
Perhaps the following suggestions can break the affinity that judicial officials have with remand. First, a separate detention facility should be erected for remanded individuals with the responsibility of their care going to the police. In fact, when it was recognized that the island required a modern correctional facility, lawmakers should have also had the foresight to erect a separate structure for those placed on remand.
Members of the police would need to undergo training in the ethical treatment of individuals that are held in pre-trial custody yet not proven guilty in a court of law. This training should emphasize that remanded persons should not be treated like sentenced offenders and are afforded the rights of an innocent person as per the Constitution with the exception of their liberty. The addition of a detention facility would immediately alleviate the overcrowding at Bordelais and allow correctional officials to focus on the tasks they were hired to do, which is to rehabilitate and reintegrate criminalized persons back into the community.
In the aftermath of a crime, the police detain and informally charge the suspect(s) with a crime while the DPP formally indicts them on these charges in the presence of the judiciary. At no point are correctional officials involved in judicial proceedings; thus, persons on remand should not be under their jurisdiction but rather under the care of the parties that made the decision to detain them prior to being tried in court.
Second, this detention facility should be reserved for those accused of serious crimes and repeat non-violent offenders. Once the DPP can demonstrate the accused poses a danger to the victim, community or herself/himself or cannot refrain from committing petty offences, judicial officials are justified in detaining the suspect(s) until their trial date. Persons charged with non-violent or petty offences for the first time, should not be remanded into custody while awaiting their court dates. According to section 790 of the Criminal Code, Magistrates can postpone preliminary inquiries into criminal matters and can permit the accused “to be at large on his or her own recognizance, in accordance with the provisions of this Code relating to bail” (pg. 600). These provisions allows government to save taxpayer dollars by monitoring first time non-violent suspects in the community via the release conditions while they await their court dates.
Third, in theory while persons on remand could be held indefinitely, an amendment to the Criminal Code should be added, which places a cap on the length of time someone can be held on remand. Those detained for serious crimes should be tried within 12 months of their detention while those charged with less serious repeat offences should be addressed within 1 month.
Furthermore, a caveat needs to be added to the amendment that allows flexibility and the retention of judicial discretion. The DPP and defence need equal amounts of time to examine the evidence thoroughly and interview witnesses in order to build their cases. Thus, the added caveat would allow Magistrates to grant the DPP or defence attorneys extra time to build their cases as considered necessary. However, a legitimate reason(s) would be required for the caveat to be implemented. Furthermore, our government officials should consider securing more judges while the DPP seeks more attorneys with the objective of processing criminal cases in a swift yet thorough manner and reducing the remand population.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that the Bordelais Correctional Facility as stated in its name, was designed to correct criminal behaviour, not to warehouse those awaiting trial. The judicial branch of the criminal justice system needs to address the chronic problems associated with having a high remand population. Persons charged with crimes need to be tried on a more consistent basis. Doing so will restore confidence in the judicial system and its officials.
Survivors of crime and their family members must seek justice through the courts and judicial officials are obligated to address the wrongdoing committed against them. The accused has the right to defend herself or himself against the accusations lodged their way in a timely manner. Corrective intervention strategies should not be compromised over individuals correctional officials have no jurisdiction over. Saint Lucia’s judicial system should not aspire to due process; it should be performed every day.
By David Myers,
B.A., M.C.A. in Criminology