Features — 30 May 2018
Criminal lawyers really  need to pause

Some people who commit murder might savor the headiness of being known by the world, if that is their game. But it really must be a life of hell. You might get off in court, but you’ll know jail time and other deprivations. And yes, it must be terribly uneasy for the conscience with such a sin.

We know the story about Cain, how God cursed him after he killed Abel. But human beings are sometimes hard in the head. We fail to grasp the lesson, or we forget. Or life is so frustrating, so without hope, that we lose all love for others. There is a moment of gratification, and then it’s over.

The detectives and the lawyers who work for the state have their little moments of satisfaction too. They do get paid for the jobs they perform, so they have the comfort of knowing where their next meals are coming from, and the money to pay the utility bills.

The detectives and lawyers(who work for the state) have their good days. I’m not talking about the cut-and-dried cases, the ones that they can’t possibly lose. Crimes of passion are usually done deals because the perpetrators are also suicidal. They really don’t care if they are found out, because they really don’t care about life anymore. They are hearts that have lost the will to live. The confession is forthcoming, and the verdict is sealed if the case is not too long in coming to court. Years could cause a change of heart.

There are these cases in which these people really put out, and things fall into place and they win in court and put a dangerous person behind bars. It must be sweet “release” when they and their team gather around a table in a nightclub or restaurant and celebrate a job well done.

But these moments are rare indeed. The last numbers for Belize were that only seven percent of those who are accused of murder are convicted. When you consider that a great many, a high portion of that seven percent, are cases that are cut-and-dried, it gets a lot more dismal. Detectives and counsel for the state might have a piece of Dutch cheese with their tea, and some delicious local bacon for breakfast, but their heads can’t rest easy. They, like us, must see the fabric of our nation renting at the seams, and despite their great education and efforts, they, like us, are completely helpless in the process.

Only one party in the process is having their cake and relishing it too. Criminal lawyers are the big stars in a murder culture. My, oh my, how brilliant these people must be, to “wap” the police detectives, the prosecution branch, and the judges and juries too, over and over and over again.

It can’t be that we are still having Perry Mason moments here. We remember Perry. Criminal lawyering became famous because of Perry Mason novels, written by Erle Stanley Gardiner. In these novels, the great lawyer was always able, at the eleventh hour, to introduce evidence to prove the innocence of his clients. If I remember correctly, a guilty party was always revealed.

In the world of the local Perry Mason, the accused is always innocent, and there is no guilty party. There are murdered bodies, but no criminals. It is all sudden death, due to gunshot, chopping, or stabbing.

With the local scene as backdrop, it is impossible to believe that criminal lawyers find virtue in their profession. We heard the criminal lawyer who said that those who rail against the low conviction rate, they run to criminal lawyers for help when a loved one commits this crime. The truth is that as individuals we are weak. The state respects the individual but it must think for the collective. After we hit 20 per year, the criminal lawyers should have started to think for the collective too.

They can’t any longer be flesh and blood. They are impervious. Or maybe they don’t know exponential arithmetic. We weren’t always here, at 80 in less than five months. There was a time when there weren’t more than five such cases in a year. Then the number climbed to ten. Then it went to twenty. You had to really be obtuse to not see the trend, that homicide would become a culture.

There was a time when murder was mostly just thought, often expressed when we were angry. You know about, Awahn chop yu up/shot yu up, and pay fu you. Of course, there are many motives for the worst crime. There are crazy/unjust laws,revenge, extreme sadness, economic frustration, survival, passion, and bad mind, which cause people to unhinge. All of these things can motivate a person to think about chop up, and shot up. But it wasn’t always that we could pay for freedom.

That is now reality. Pay a criminal lawyer and you are not guilty. The new sophistication has aided the pay-for-murder process. In murder trials the defense counsel has a huge advantage because the chief witness is not usually present. In the past, unsophisticated juries didn’t need that much convincing to find an accused person guilty. But in the modern world, sophisticated juries need a lot of evidence, to convict an accused. It does not matter that parties found guilty no longer go to the gallows; modern juries need more evidence.

More modern countries do produce more evidence. Out there they have specialized in a science called “forensics”, which goes a long way in leveling the field. Belize does not possess much in that capacity. Our incapacity in forensics means the odds for the “defense” winning out have increased exponentially, when compared with the days of the unsophisticated juries.

Belize’s sole response has been to make judges act in both capacities – judge and jury. But modern judges are not named Crane. The chances for the defense may even be increased when the judge is jury.

It is all tontería for our lawyer fraternity to close ranks and blame the police and prosecution branch for our failed justice system. It is believed that people at a higher education level should be introducing better ideas and systems. When our murder rate hit 20 per year, they should have made pause. Now we have 80 such crimes in less than half a year.

Bah, the criminal lawyers don’t mean to help us. So, we have to help ourselves. Belize must rid itself of the murder culture.

Janus, a former columnist of the Amandala, offered a New Jurisprudence. In our present system, the prosecution and the defense go at each other in court, presumably to arrive at the truth. But, before they go to court, they are not (shouldn’t be) so antagonistic. In Janus’s New Jurisprudence, the prosecution and the defense work together, throughout the entire process, for the common good.

In my offering some time ago, I called for a first class holding pen for all the Nolle pros and such. The state pays for the cable and the internet, and such, and if a man has a spouse or girlfriend he is allowed conjugal visits. The state pays for counsel and detectives to work on the cases, until they are justly resolved.

I think it is better to have a good justice system, and discourage murder, than to invest so much in cement. And anyway, we can tax the earnings of the counsel and detectives, and still build, okay, on a more modest scale.

If we don’t murder this culture, we will kill each other until there is no one left. The way this story will end if we continue on this dead end path, the last Belizean standing will have to commit suicide. We don’t know who will be the last Belizean, but if we keep on this present track we will for sure find out. A good bet is that it will be a criminal lawyer.

I like the ending in Shawshank, the part before the Redemption. I am talking about the end of the krukid jail boss. But maybe dynamite will be better than a gun. We wouldn’t want any evidence to be left. That way we will prevent any fossil searcher coming along and piecing the story together, of how Belize went from a tranquil haven to ranking amongst the ugliest nations of the world.

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Deshawn Swasey

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