Today’s Opinion: Overboard

POSTED: 05/11/11 11:47 AM

The emotional reactions after Friday’s fatal accident in Sucker Garden are understandable. Yet we feel that some of these reactions have gone a bit overboard, and they have nothing to do with the obvious grief and sorrow that are now an integral part of the victim’s loved ones.

There were rather quick condemnations, and even insinuations at the address of the Public Prosecutor’s Office. One of the hot topics was the release of the truck driver who caused the fatal accidents after six hours.

That led to some phone calls to this newspaper with questions like, “If the victim had been the daughter of a prosecutor or of the governor, would it then also have been an accident?”

Another urban rumor that did the rounds was that, because the prison is full, nobody would go to prison anymore unless the sentence was higher than four years.

Nonsense of course, but people love these stories: the prison is full, the truck driver was released after six hours, and therefore nobody goes to prison anymore.

The truth is that the justice system is working frantically to create solutions for the shortage of cell space. And no, it is absolutely not true that criminals now have the run of the place as long as they stick to crimes that carry less than four years imprisonment.

The truth is sometimes less exciting and therefore also less satisfying for some people. Let’s start with the release of the truck driver.

Since the man was not drunk, the charge that could be brought against him is palpable homicide, or as the Dutch say, dood door schuld. That carries a maximum penalty of 2 years in St. Maarten. Drunk drivers who kill someone on the road could face 6 years – but that option is not relevant for the situation at hand.

Preventive custody (also referred to as pre-trial custody) is only allowed for crimes that carry at least 4 years of imprisonment. Since the truck driver will face a maximum penalty of 2 years, preventive custody is simply not an option for the prosecutor’s office. It is against the law.

That may not satisfy people who are understandably upset about the consequences of the truck driver’s action, namely, the death of 12-year-old Silvia Lynch, but it is a reality the prosecutor’s office has to deal with. There were no legal possibilities to put the truck driver behind bars beyond the six hours.

Then of course, there is the question about the background of the victim. Would the prosecutor’s office have acted differently if the governor’s daughter had been the victim? We don’t think so – simply because it is not possible to act any different.

Class justice is an old sore that has haunted criminal justice systems the world over. And it is of course true that certain people get a different treatment than others. A high ranking police officer is not put to clean the streets if he is sentenced to community service, as we know, but the guy next door who did something stupid to his wife or his neighbor can count on it.

Is that fair? Probably not, but it is a reality, so in this sense, class justice is alive and kicking.

But when it comes to objective judgments of terrible traffic accidents the result should always be the same. It does not matter who the victim is, and it does not matter who caused the accident. The investigation is about all circumstances – the condition of the truck, the validity of the driver’s papers, the responsibility of the company or owner who employed him, the truck driver’s actions and of course the consequences.

That last circumstance is at least clear: a life – and a young one at that – was lost. It also seems clear that the driver acted irresponsibly by assuming that the bus would have driven away by the time he arrived at the location where the accident happened. But whether this is really so – in the sense that it can be legally and convincingly proven in a court of law – remains for now an open question.

All conspiracy theories about the owner of the truck and how this would influence the course of justice are based on absolutely nothing. That ownership still has to be formally established; we have no doubt that the investigators will get to the bottom of all this.

Let us not forget that the office of the Public Prosecutor is independent and that it has the monopoly on prosecuting crimes – unless, of course, there is a politician in the mix.


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