The New Today

Letters

When criminal law and civil law collide

Just when everyone thought that the alleged murder of Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry might have been heading for a speedy resolution, two new considerations have suddenly come to the fore.

Once the initial hurdle of determining the proper jurisdiction for hearing the matter was settled between the governments of Grenada and St. Vincent, the talk of the town quickly shifted to the possible extradition of the three suspects to the United States (US), and the prospect of the surviving sons of the two American yachties filing a lawsuit to recover monetary damages for the loss of their parents.

Most Grenadians might be surprised to learn that there has been an extradition treaty between Grenada and the US that was signed by Prime Minister Keith Mitchell in 1996. Article 1 of the agreement unequivocally states that “[the two parties] will not hesitate to extradite any person who is sought for prosecution or who has been convicted of an extraditable offense.”

Additionally, Article 2 explains that “any offense that is punishable under the laws of [the two parties] by deprivation of liberty for a period of more than one year or by a more severe penalty is an extraditable offense.”

Not too long ago, our Jamaican neighbours learned the very sobering lesson that the US stops at nothing to ensure compliance with its extradition request in the case of Christopher “Dudus” Coke who was closely entwined with the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).

When the US came knocking for the proverbial head of “Dudus”, Prime Minister Bruce Golden fought tooth and nail to avoid complying with the request.

Needless to say, the US brought the full weight of its legal expertise and geopolitical clout to bear on the Golden Administration, and “Dudus” was well on his way to serving a 23-year sentence in an American prison.

The case of Edward Snowden is another stark reminder of how the US uses its substantial bargaining power to coerce and ensure compliance. Despite Barack Obama’s campaign promise to allow greater transparency in US policy, his administration spared no effort in their attempt to force the extradition of Snowden on a charge of leaking state secrets.

To avoid being extradited, Snowden acquired Russian citizenship. But every subsequent administration has made it clear that even his denunciation of his nationality will not bring the story to an end.

Then there is the story of an Australian citizen named Julius Assange. After Assange learned that he was wanted by the US on a charge of hacking into American intelligence records, he sought refuge in Ecuador and was later forced to seek asylum in Britain where he is languishing in a prison cell as he continues to fight the extradition request.

Another well-known story is that of Manuel Noriega who was indicted in the US in 1988 on several drug trafficking charges. As the President of Panama, Noriega made it clear that he was never going to get caught in the American extradition dragnet. In response, the US invaded Panama, captured Noriega, and sentenced him to more than 60 years in prison.

There is also the case of the narcotrafficker named Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Given the tremendous power he wielded as the leader of the most powerful drug cartel in Mexico, El Chapo had succeeded in escaping detention several times. However, he was eventually captured after a shoot-out and extradited to the US where he was sentenced to life in prison.

In light of the foregoing, Atiba Stanislaus, Ron Mitchell, and Trevon Robertson would be best advised to pack their bags and be ready for the 5-hour flight to the US, or an even shorter haul to Guantanamo Bay. And so, their relatives and friends should already be bidding them “happy riddance”.

Meanwhile, the question of filing a civil suit against the appropriate entity for the death of Kathy and Ralph must be regarded as a different kettle of fish. But while every kind of emotion would be brought to bear in this troubling situation, the lawyers for the plaintiffs might be best advised to ponder well on the import of Sections 33, 49, 66, and 231 of Chapter 244 Police Act (the “Act”) before assigning liability to the Government of Grenada or any other entity in any pending litigation.

The case of Oscar Bartholomew has been mentioned as being of particular relevance as far as case law is concerned. However, while Oscar’s death was the immediate and direct consequence of the unlawful misconduct of the officers who had him in their custody, the two Americans were murdered by three ordinary citizens who had escaped lawful custody. Thus, the quantum of damages in the amount of EC$1 million imposed by the Court on the Government of Grenada was appropriate and reasonable in that case.

The case of Rodney King’s death at the hands of four police officers might also help to inform any decision in the present matter. In that case, the city of Los Angeles was ordered to pay almost US$4 million in damages, and two of the officers were sentenced to serve prison terms.

In the case of George Floyd whose death was also the immediate and direct consequence of Officer Derek Chauvin, the City of Minneapolis was ordered to pay US$27 million to his estate, and all of the officers involved were sentenced to serve varying prison terms.

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also comes to mind and is even more appropriate. Dr. King’s assassin, James Earl Ray, had escaped from a Missouri State Penitentiary and was on the run for several months before committing the crime. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison, and Dr. King’s family was symbolically awarded US$100 in damages.

The irony of the situation, though, is that the same radio talk show hosts who have been counseling the members of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) to retire in droves and send the Spice Isles spiraling into a state of dystopia are now crying crocodile tears over the current spike in crime.

Still, as President John F. Kennedy famously said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” And so, as Grenadians, we must all wish our country well and continue to hope that “Justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done.”

Keith Williams