Prosecutor: Hundreds of prison sentences not executed in 2022 due to lack of beds | THE DAILY HERALD

 PHILIPSBURG–The lack of cell capacity is a major bottleneck for the Prosecutor’s Office OM SXM, Chief Prosecutor Hieke Buist states in the 2022 Year Report. “Even though numerous cases have successfully been brought to trial, with court rulings sentencing the suspects to imprisonment, it has been a great challenge to execute these court rulings.”

The OM registered 737 new cases in 2022, an increase of 10% in comparison to 2021. Of these, 643 offences were committed by adults and 61 by juveniles. In addition, 12 traffic offences were committed by adults. In 2022, the OM assessed 505 cases of which the oldest case stemmed from 2017.

Looking back at her first year serving as Chief Prosecutor of St. Maarten since her appointment in January 2022, Buist stated: “Unfortunately, we have been forced to make difficult decisions as to which sentences can be executed and which not.”

The OM has been faced with the constant challenge of a shortage of prison and holding cells, it is stated in the 2022 year report.

“This has affected the execution of several hundreds of sentences, ranging from several months to years. This shortage of detention space has also led to the release of suspects in pretrial detention, including those arrested for human-smuggling and other violent acts. Throughout the year the OM has communicated the consequences of this detention shortage to the Ministry of Justice. Unfortunately, difficult decisions needed to be made as to which sentences should be executed, resulting in a situation in which not all sentences are executed.”

Buist concluded, “It is of utmost importance for the safety of St. Maarten as well as the effectiveness of the judicial system that improvements are made within the prison system and thus the number of available prison cells.”

Pointe Blanche prison

The report also draws attention to the lack of forensic psychiatric care for detainees and repeat offenders.

“At the moment St. Maarten does not have a psychiatric hospital nor the facilities to provide this care for people who have committed a crime and need such care,” stated OM SXM, which indicated its desire to contribute to forensic psychiatric care in its year plan 2022.

“Although we did not succeed to fulfil all our plans, we have requested care by the Mental Health Foundation in two cases. Furthermore, meetings have been held within the justice chain in order to add in the development of this much-needed care. Finally, the OM also closely follows the ongoing JVO discussions on this topic.”

One of the mentally challenged repeat offenders, not mentioned in the report, is 36-year-old D.P. who, after his behaviour got him into trouble with other inmates, was transferred from the Point Blanche prison to a police holding cell in Philipsburg.

His lawyer, Geert Hatzmann, urged the Prosecutor’s Office and the Minister of Justice to transfer his client to Curaçao for admission to the Forensic Observation Treatment Unit FOBA of the prison there. After having spent three months in the police holding cell in Philipsburg, D.P. was flown to Curaçao to receive forensic psychiatric care in prison from forensic psychiatrist Frans Heijtel.

Although Buist, through her spokesperson, has systematically refused to give interviews to the local media, it is stated in the year report that “the OM persisted in informing the public of major cases and its other activities, through both conventional media channels and social media. A greater emphasis was placed on utilising the professional platform LinkedIn to extend its reach to a wider audience.

“The communication between the OM and the public progressed throughout the year, as it aimed to provide accurate and transparent information without compromising ongoing investigations or other obligations.”

The Year Report 2022 lists eight high profile cases, two of them illustrated with pictures published in The Daily Herald resulting from reporters covering the court hearings.

The first high profile case is that of two child molesters. In July 2022, B.S., a child rapist, was handed a 17-year prison sentence. His accomplice, former school secretary J.W., received a prison sentence of 13 years, exceeding the prosecutor’s demand of 10 years. The judge found evidence that J.W. was not a victim but a predator herself. Both persons were implicated in the repeated rape and assault of girls ages 5-11 in the home of B.S. and his wife.

Although OM SXM stated in the 2022 year report that the wife of B.S. “is also a suspect in the case,” the woman, who is the subject of police reports filed by parents of victims in the Pandora sex crime case, has not yet not been brought to trial. The Daily Herald understands that she has been allowed to continue working at the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT).

The second high-profile case is that of a Simpson Bay shooter. The Prosecutor had demanded a sentence of eight years in prison and the man L.C.B. was sentenced to 12 years in prison on March 23, 2022, for shooting a man in the leg in broad daylight in Simpson Bay, after firing eight gunshots in front of a restaurant on May 1, 2021. The victim and the defendant were seen exchanging gunfire on surveillance camera footage presented during the case hearing.

After the defendant ran away he was pursued by the victim in his car, resulting in a collision. The victim continued his search and from a hiding spot in a yard the defendant shot the victim in his leg.

The defendants’ lawyer has announced an appeal against the “remarkably high sentence,” stating that the sentence was not consistent with the level of punishment in similar cases. Meanwhile, that sentence was reduced from 12 to 10 years on appeal on Monday this week.

Another verdict currently under appeal is the June 2022 sentencing of the Dawn Beach shooter to 11 years in prison for killing a man who dated the same woman he was seeing.

On July 6, 2022, a 20-year-old man was sentenced by the Court to 20 years in prison for the murder of a 21-year-old victim near Tan Tan Supermarket on A.Th. Illidge Road on April 20, 2021. The victim was found in a car with a gunshot wound to his abdomen and later passed away at St. Maarten Medical Center due to his injuries.

OM SXM also highlights the Thorium case in its year report. “In March 2022, the Court of Appeal sentenced two men to 20 and 18 years in prison for a fatal shooting that occurred outside the adult entertainment club El Capitan in Sucker Garden in December 2018. This verdict overturned the decision of the Court from 2020 that had allowed the men to go free.”

The Court of Appeal ordered the defendants to start serving their sentences immediately, OM SXM stated. “However, after the sentencing from the Court in 2020 the men had been released from prison and had left the island before the sentencing by the Court of Appeal. The Court had ruled that the suspects had acted in self-defence when shooting and killing one man and seriously injuring another. In September 2022, the two men were arrested by United States law enforcement; the extradition process is currently ongoing.”

OM SXM had stated previously in a press release, issued after the arrest of the two fugitives in Fulton County, Georgia, that “extradition proceedings are expected to take two to three months” and that “the Prosecutor’s office OM SXM will oversee the execution of the sentences of the two convicts.”

The 2022 Year Report mentions that the Prosecutor’s Office, with a yearly budget of 2,831,800 Antillean guilders for its personnel, was understaffed in 2022. “The OM has tried to fill all the open positions in its formation; however, certain essential positions could have not been filled, such as that of the policy officer.

“During 2022 the OM was understaffed due to the long-time sickness of two people and vacancies within the administration department not being filled. Also, the replacement of Prosecutors took longer than anticipated, leading to the understaffing in that department as well.”

Even through the challenges of understaffing, the office worked as a team to handle all the cases, OM SXM stated, “but it has been a challenge to fulfil all our ambitions for 2022.”

Source: The Daily Herald