Stiffer punishments for Parliament to decide

POSTED: 03/11/11 4:47 PM

St. Maarten – Justice Minister Roland Duncan has told Members of Parliament that they’ll have a concrete chance to set “stiffer punishments” as a deterrent for crime when he presents them with the new Penal Code. He was responding to questions and comments in a meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament where several MPs queried whether stiffer penalties would be a good deterrent for crime.

Duncan gave no date for the submission but revealed that the proposed minimum sentences in the new Penal Code are lower than what they are now. Whether these minimums need to be higher and whether there are sufficient proposed alternatives to prison sentences is something that he’s left to Parliament to consider.
“Our Code of Criminal Procedure needs to be uniform with the others in the Kingdom, but our Penal Code does not have to be uniform,” Duncan said.
One example the Minister used in terms of sentences is the 30 year maximum sentence for murder. Judges only use that figure if the crime is particularly heinous. Duncan believes each MP will have to ask themselves whether that amount is too much or too little. Next to that he said they must consider the expense related to imprisonment. The current cost estimate is 300 guilders per day, per prisoner. House arrest has also been thrown out, but Duncan said the cost for using the technology is prohibitive.
“When we use one of those bracelets it’s a continuous cell phone call and those are expensive,” Duncan said.

The matter of stiffer penalties was first raised by National Alliance MP Frans Richardson. He wanted to know what tools MPs needed to give the judiciary to allow them to do their work and what types of sentences would serve as deterrents. His party colleague George Pantophlet also stressed the point of stiffer penalties and queried how the island could meet international standards but impose stiffer penalties.
“For example we see in some countries that the death penalty is legal, but for others they get in trouble with international organizations like the United Nations. So how do we find the balance,” Pantophlet queried even though he is “against the death penalty”.

Louie Laveist, also of the National Alliance, urged his colleagues to be careful when considering stiffer penalties and told the Minister to ensure he consulted with especially the judges so that the stiffer penalties would not become “inefficient, ineffective and useless paper tigers.”
“Let us be sure we’re using our time effectively,” Laveist said.
In reply Duncan pointed out that St. Maarten’s constitution forbids the death penalty and that he also personally disagrees with using it as punishment, because of the cost and because he does not believe it is a real punishment.
“Punishment is the realization that you’ve done wrong and having to live with the guilt of what you’ve done. Ending someone’s life does not necessarily allow that,” Duncan said.
The minister also made it clear that the judges are expected to follow the laws that Parliament enacts and so he does not believe there will be issues with implementation of whatever punishments are eventually approved.

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