Headline — 25 April 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
$50,000/5-year sentence stipulated for the media

This particular section of the new law escaped exposure and debate in the Senate

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Apr. 23, 2018– At the time the government presented the 2018-19 budget, it also came up with a raft of new legislation, and among them was the 2018 Amendment to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Amendment Act, which prescribed a new regimen of very stiff penalties for persons who are affiliated with or belong to criminal gangs, or who harbor and assist gang members.

Recently, the Caribbean Court of Justice, (CCJ) made a ruling in the criminal appeal of convicted murderer Gregory August, who was serving a life sentence. The ruling upheld a Court of Appeal decision which found that a life in prison sentence without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional. August’s life sentence was therefore replaced with a 30-year in prison sentence.

That new sentence has ushered in a whole new regimen of sentencing for a murder conviction. The implication of this is that all so-called “lifers” at the Belize Central Prison can now apply for a fixed date sentence.

Under the amendment to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act, however, a gang member who is convicted of belonging to a criminal gang can be sentenced to up to up 25 years in prison.

Surprisingly, that piece of legislation sailed through the House of Representatives without much debate and it also passed through the Senate, where debates are much more robust and arguments are issues-related. But this amendment to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act passed without much fanfare, although some of its provisions are likely to face constitutional challenge at the Supreme Court for their extremeness.

One section of the law specified a kind of secret trial. That law states that persons are forbidden from reporting on or calling the names of witnesses in cases where a judge, sitting without a jury, specifies that for the administration of justice to protect public safety or public morality, the court hearing a case in the exercise of its jurisdiction under this part may direct that only the name of the accused and the offense for which he is charged can be made public.

The law does not say “news media,” but who else would publish particulars about a trial?

The law goes on to state that any person who contravenes this section of the law shall be liable upon summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a period of 12 months.

The fine for a similar violation on indictment (at the Supreme Court level) goes up to $50,000 and the imprisonment term is for 5 years.

“No particulars of the trial other than the name of the accused, the offense charged and the verdict and sentence shall be published without the prior written consent of the Court,” the new law says.

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Deshawn Swasey

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