Duncan’s minimum-sentence plan raises legal eyebrows

POSTED: 08/17/11 11:30 AM

Merx: “Judges have the option to deviate from it”

St. Maarten – Justice Minister Roland Duncan’s announcement that he wants to introduce minimum sentences in the new penal code as well as heavier punishments for crimes committed against tourists have raised eyebrows in the legal community.
“Judges are bound to uphold the law.These statements by the minister indicate that he wants to make clear that he is the boss,” attorney. mr. Cor Merx said yesterday.
Merx does not believe that judges will follow these rules under all conditions if minimum sentences become law in St. Maarten.
“Judges have to option to deviate from it. They will have to weigh the pros and cons against each other.”
Merx has history on his side. When the Netherlands Antilles decided to take passports away from bolita-swallowers, a legal battle ensued that resulted in a Supreme Court ruling against the measure. This shows that laws politicians introduce do not always hold up in court.
How will judges react to the introduction of minimum sentences? Merx: “I think that they won’t feel that they are bound by such a law. Then it will go to the Appeals Court and in the end to the Supreme Court. This court could decide to order the legislator to react to the development. But I would not be happy as a judge to be put on the spot like this. After all, judges are there to protect citizens’ legal rights.”
Merx also criticizes Duncan’s intention to introduce more severe punishments for crimes committed against tourists.
“How is it possible to threaten a separate category with extra punishment? We still have to see how heavy those punishments will be. It is much better to hand down punishments faster to someone who assaults a tourist,” he said.
To illustrate the impossibility of finding a legal basis for the tourist-measure, Merx points to the signs businesses display to protect parking space in front of their establishments.
“Parking only for visitors is impossible. The traffic ordinance does not make a distinction between visitors and other motorists. There is no legal basis for it.”
Merx is a proponent of summary justice: arrest people who commit a crime against tourists and bring them in front of a judge as soon as possible, time and again.
“It is much better to punish them six times in a row, than once a year,” Merx says.
“If someone parks illegally on Front Street and he gets six parking tickets in a row he will change his ways, but if he gets a ticket once a year, he won’t care.”
During last week’s Central Committee meeting UP-MP Ruth Douglas brought up the possibility of introducing a bail-system. According to Merx, the code of criminal procedure already contains a provision that allows for the release of suspects from preventive custody after paying a guarantee, but the article is never used.
“It would mean that people with money would always have the option to be released, while people without money would have to stay in jail,” Merx said.

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