Police’s “great error” leads to case dismissal

POSTED: 03/29/12 2:39 PM

“We need to be sure who handled the weapon”

St. Maarten – Jason Omar Margarita, who is 24-years-old, walked out of the Court House a free man on Wednesday after Judge Monique Keppels ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict him of gun possession. The ruling is somewhat of a victory for his attorney Geert Haartzman who’d submitted an objection before the trial started. The defense attorney argued that his client had been discriminated against and the police had so “mishandled’ the weapon that there was enough reasonable doubt for his client to be freed.

Margarita was arrested on December 13 near the Sol gas station on Bush Road. Police stopped the car he was riding because they believed that Margarita and a man identified as Munos were behaving suspiciously. Things got unclear at this stage because the case file states that police found marijuana and the gun in the car during a search, but Margarita told the court the police found the marijuana on him.
Haartzman argues that his client was discriminated against because he was kept in custody, without being able to answer to Munos’ charge that he was the one who had the gun. Based on that allegation Munos was released and Margarita remained behind bars.
“The weapon was found near him. It is possible that Munos put the gun under the passenger seat. We need to be sure who handled the weapon. I asked the public prosecutor to have a DNA test on the weapon, but an email from the public prosecutor says that too many handled the weapon to be sure if my client’s DNA is on the weapon. My client says the weapon is not his but yet my client was discriminated against by being held longer,” Haartzman said.
The public prosecutor also regrets that no DNA test could be done, but did not believe that was sufficient reason to not proceed with the case. Judge Monique Keppels agreed and proceeded with the handling.
Margarita himself denied that the weapon is his and that he had done nothing suspicious to draw attention to the car.
“I got a ride from Le Grand Marche and the police stopped the car. It was an undercover car following us. I put on my seat belt. Any time Claudie see me, he does stop the car. This thing is a whole set up. Me ain’t got nothing to do with that. Is a ride I get,” the defendant said.
Later he’d add, “The marijuana is mine and they found it on me, not in the car. That’s to show you what mix up thing they do there.”

During the pleas the prosecutor said that Munos informed police that Margarita had done something under his shirt before they were asked to get out the car, and that he thought he was stashing away marijuana. Both men have seen the other smoke marijuana. The prosecutor also had a reason to believe that the weapon belongs to Margarita.
“This young man loves weapons. This is the fourth time he’s here for something with weapons,” the prosecutor said before demanding an 18 month prison sentence.
Haartzman reasserted, on his turn, that there is sufficient reasonable doubt about who the weapon belongs to and that the “great error” that the police made in how they handled the weapon should be enough to lead to his client not being convicted. He also said that if the judge convicted his client that a 12 month prison sentence is a more justifiable punishment than 18 months.
After some thinking Judge Keppels decided to let the young man go because it was clear that someone had placed the gun in the car, it was not clear to her that Margarita is the guilty party.

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