Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Bahamas has acknowledged that its criminal justice system needs help

Adopting laws against organized crime

thenassauguardian editorial

The annual drug report prepared by the United States government usually provides interesting commentary on the state of drug trafficking to and through The Bahamas.

In the 2011 report, the U.S. government again made suggestions to the Bahamian government to reform the criminal justice system in this country.

“However, a need still exists to reduce the long delays in resolving extradition requests and other criminal cases as an existing trend of law enforcement successes have been undermined by an overburdened Bahamian legal system,” said the U.S. State Department in the report.

“As mentioned in previous annual reports, we continue to encourage The Bahamas to increase the resources and manpower available to prosecutors, judges, and magistrates.”

The Bahamas has acknowledged that its criminal justice system needs help.

The government has set in motion a series of reforms aimed at reducing the backlog of cases before the court and speeding up the rate of prosecution in the country.

The U.S. made another suggestion in the report that should be considered.

The State Department noted that the country lacks legislation criminalizing participation in an organized criminal group.

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) is a U.S. federal law that provides for long criminal sentences and civil penalties for actions performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization.

Simply put, those proven to be involved with an organized crime group are jailed for long terms.

The U.S. government has used these laws effectively against the mafia. In The Bahamas, no such law exists.

According to the drug report, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Operation Bahamas Turks and Caicos estimate that there are 12 to 15 major drug trafficking organizations operating in The Bahamas.

A RICO law in The Bahamas would provide another tool to local law enforcement to take down some of these drug gangs.

However, local police and prosecutors would need to learn to conduct more comprehensive investigations for such a law to work.

Rather than arresting one criminal for one offense, investigators and prosecutors would need to build a case against entire organizations. Evidence would need to be marshaled chronicling the various crimes it commits. The actors in the criminal activity would then need to be defined and linked to the criminal organization.

Comprehensive indictments would follow and large numbers of criminals would be brought to court at the same time.

These investigations could take years. But when done well, they cripple or dismantle entire criminal organizations.

For such a thing to work, The Bahamas would also need to change its overall prosecutorial response to drug trafficking. Traffickers are currently prosecuted in Magistrates Court where the maximum sentence is five years in jail.

Some smugglers have been found in possession of millions of dollars work of cocaine and they have only faced that five-year sentence, or less if they pleaded guilty.

The law needs to prosecute based on weight. Those found in possession of large quantities of drugs should face trial in the Supreme Court where serious penalties can be issued. RICO prosecutions, if adopted, would also take place in the Supreme Court.

Organized crime is a threat to democracy. Those who do not believe this need only look at Mexico. The cartels there are at war with the state. And in some jurisdictions in that country, the cartels are winning the war.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched his war on the cartels in 2006, more than 30,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence.

The Bahamas must consider legislative tools such as the RICO law in the U.S. to assist in the local fight against narco-trafficking.

We cannot just continue to hope that the U.S. requests the extradition of our major drug dealers. We must develop the capacity to lock them up for long periods of time in this country.


thenassauguardian editorial