Opinion: Curve ball

POSTED: 07/1/11 7:26 PM

We’re quite happy that we’re not sitting on the chair of our resident Judge mr. M. Keppels, because she has to figure out a rather unique situation. We’ll know the right answer on July 20, when our Judge rules on the case of two Puerto Ricans who were caught in an attempt to smuggle thirteen Brazilians from St. Maarten to their home country.

The question at the heart of this case is whether the Puerto Ricans attempted to smuggle the Brazilians, whether they prepared to smuggle them, or whether they actually put their plan into action, thereby completing the crime.

The prosecution has charged the defendants with an attempt to smuggle the Brazilians. In other words, in the view of the prosecutor’s office the Puerto Ricans did not complete the crime.

Enter attorney mr. G. Hatzmann who went seemingly completely against the grain by claiming that his clients actually had completed the crime. Does that make them guilty?

Ah no, Hatzmann said. My clients have been charged with an attempt to smuggle people, It is one or the other: or they attempted to do this, or they prepared a plan to do this, or they actually did it.

If Hatzmann’s defense sticks, we will have the unique situation that two defendants who, by their own attorney’s statement, have committed a crime, will have to be acquitted because they have only been accused of attempting to smuggle people.

The defense certainly deserves kudos for originality, but the question our average readers will struggle with is obvious.

Recent reports about the efforts made by Curacao to combat human smuggling have once more drawn attention to the next best thing to smuggling drugs. In terms of risk and profitability, smuggling people seems far more attractive from the criminal point of view than smuggling drugs.

Serious drugs smuggling carries stiff penalties, while for instance the human smugglers who were involved in the Jesus La transport in December of last year got off relatively light. A cab driver whom the court considered the spider in the human smuggling web on St. Maarten was sentenced to just 4 years and ten months and that while at least eight people drowned during this fatal trip.

Suspicions were at the time that the cab driver had been involved in human smuggling activities for at least ten years. The profits from this racket must have been significant – and the cab driver remained under the radar for a decade.

The Puerto Ricans did not get this far: they chased their passengers off their boat when they felt that the Coast Guard was about to come down on them. Nobody died, and nobody left the island on their boat either. But the intention was clear: carrying a bunch of people for a lot of money to United States territory.

Hatzmann’s attempt to get his clients of the hook main seems contemptible to some but hey, this is what lawyers do: they look for any opportunity to get the best result for the people they defend.

Nevertheless, an acquittal would be painful for the prosecution and it would also be a blow to the fight against human trafficking. That does not change the fact of course that legal minds will watch with interest how Judge Keppels is going to deal with Hatzmann’s curve ball.


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