Crime — 16 April 2014 — by Rowland A. Parks
Police charge Ladyville shooting victim for knife, but withdrew it in court on a technicality

A Ladyville man, Oscar Perez, 31, who was involved in a bar brawl on April 5, which started inside the Blue House Bar and ended outside on the Philip Goldson Highway in front of the bar, was charged in a Belize City court with “being in possession of an article with a blade longer than three inches,” but the charge was withdrawn because of a technical loophole related to the size of the blade Perez had been carrying.

Police say Perez stabbed Dennis Burke, 47, who shot him with his licensed firearm and who, nevertheless, was remanded to prison on a charge of “discharging a firearm in public.”

On Friday, Perez, a construction worker, appeared before Chief Magistrate Ann Marie Smith, who arraigned him on the single charge of possession of an article with a blade longer than three inches, to which he pleaded guilty.

But the court’s prosecutor asked for a twenty-minute adjournment to look at a technical question regarding the size of the knife police allegedly found in Perez’s possession.

At the resumption of the hearing, it turned out that for the police to charge Perez for the knife, its blade had to measure more than three inches in length.

The blade of the knife that police found on Perez measured exactly three inches, therefore he could not be charged with the offense of being in possession of an article with a blade measuring more than three inches.

Having arrived at that determination based on what the law requires to sustain the charge, the Chief Magistrate asked the prosecutor what he was going to do about the charge.

He replied that he would dismiss the charge.

But Smith advised him that it would be better to withdraw it. And the prosecutor did that.

With the charge withdrawn, Perez, who had traveled from Ladyville on two consecutive days to attend court for the matter, was told that he was free to go.
On Monday of this week, Dennis Burke, a Ladyville businessman, appeared before Magistrate Dale Cayetano to answer to charges of discharging a firearm in public and unlawful conduct, to both of which he pleaded not guilty.

But because the firearm offense for which he was charged falls under the amendments to the Firearms Act, Burke was unable to access bail at the Magistrate’s Court level and was remanded to prison, where due to the strictness of the amendment to the law, he has to remain for two weeks before he can apply to the Supreme Court for bail, which has to be done through an attorney.

After the brawl on the Philip Goldson Highway, both Perez and Burke had to be taken to the Belize Defence Force hospital in Ladyville for treatment, and were later transferred to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in stable condition.

According to a police report on the incident, when the officers arrived on the scene they found Burke lying on the ground on the side of the highway with a stab wound in his right upper chest.
Police said they found Perez with what appeared to be a gunshot wound to his abdomen.

The report also said, “Ladyville police responded to the scene where they retrieved one .9mm Luger brand pistol and a folded pocket knife measuring about five inches in length.”

That police description of Perez’s knife appears to have been inaccurate, or at best, did not refer specifically to the length of the blade of the knife – which the section of the law which addresses prohibited articles for which a person can be charged, stipulates must be more than three inches.

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