Today’s Opinion: The Snowflake case

POSTED: 03/24/11 12:47 PM

The position of the public prosecutor in the Snowflake case that became apparent yesterday caught defense attorneys by surprise.

In December, the prosecutor’s office asked the court to declare it inadmissible in its own prosecution. Yesterday the prosecutor sang a different tune: the office now wants to continue with the trial against four defendants who are suspected of smuggling 623 kilos of cocaine from Colombia via St. Maarten to the Netherlands.

When the cased seemed to fall apart in December, it was good news for the cocaine smuggling suspects, and a heavy blow for the justice system. How is it possible, people wondered, that the prosecution makes such mistakes that is sees no other option than to let a bunch a drug smugglers, at least a bunch of people it has identified as such, go free?

In December it came all across rather mysterious, because the prosecution made it appear as if this has to be handled hush-hush, at the same time stressing the importance of the accuracy of police reports. Judge Keppels did not buy the prosecution’s request to declare itself inadmissible. She wanted more information about the contested police report.

Yesterday the judge and the defense got more than they had bargained for. The prosecution gave near full disclosure, using dramatic words like “disgrace,” “a cosmetic piece,” and “what a shame for the defendants.” At the same time, the prosecutor downplayed the importance of a document that had been added to the case file with a false date.

At the moment it has not even been established whether the content of the report is correct or maybe full of lies. We simply do not know.

The bottom line is that this so-called transfer report was used to kick-start the Snowflake investigation. And because the date on it was incorrect, the judge of instruction acted on this report as if he was dealing with new information. That was the basis to allow investigators to tap the phones of the defendants.

That they were on the right track became apparent in May of last year, when they busted the defendants and found 170 kilos of cocaine in a house in Simpson Bay.

That’s a success right? When police officers are successful catching the bad guys everybody ought to be happy as nails.

But that is only true if law enforcement agencies play it by the book. That this is a disadvantage in the fight against organized crime is obvious, but our constitution simply does not allow cops to play dirty with criminals who live by the raw rules of survival. If investigators ignore the rules, their successful work easily crumbles in court and comes to nothing.

So what to think of the prosecution’s position? First the antedated report was considered a crucial document. Yesterday it became irrelevant, at least, in the eyes of the prosecution.

The defense attorneys were not pleased, to put it mildly, and they ferociously oppose the new position now presented to the court by the prosecution.

Judge Keppels will take her time to mull things over – and rightly so. Everything now hinges on the decision she will present in court on May 26.

What is more important? That law enforcement agencies play by the rules? That cocaine smuggling criminals are put away for a very long time?

That last sentence is actually the wrong question because our justice system is based on the presumption of innocence. The defendants in the snowflake-case are mere suspects, even though they will have a hard time to explain how they ended up with 170 kilos of cocaine at home.

Justice must run its course, but it must do so in the appropriate manner. While we want to get drug smuggling criminals off the streets, we are not looking forward to a justice system that bends the rules to its own advantage. We are not claiming that this is the case here, if only because we are not familiar with all the details of the fat dossier the prosecution presented to the court and to the defense attorneys yesterday.

Prosecutor Angela took the high ground yesterday by proclaiming that the prosecutor’s office changed position testifies of wisdom.

We are not so sure, if only because the position the prosecutor took in December was also well thought through.

We also realize that, with this kind of questions on the table, it’s easier to be a journalist, than to be a judge.

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