By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Tues. Mar. 18, 2014
Attorney for accused drug trafficker sought by the U.S. state of Ohio Gary Seawell, Arthur Saldivar, hopes to convince Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana of what he could not convince Chief Magistrate Ann-Marie Smith last October: that his client deserves to be free.
Madam Justice Arana reserved her decision on Tuesday after hearing arguments from Saldivar and counsel in the Solicitor General’s Office, Illiana Swift.
Seawell, 39, has been sought since 2006 on allegations that he and brothers Mark and Duane engaged in importing cocaine into the United States through Mexico from 1994 to 1997, allegedly by using vacationing American students as couriers – the cocaine was reportedly stuffed in their shoes.
Saldivar raised three grounds in support of his arguments.
Despite charges that he was attempting to appeal the Chief Magistrate’s decision in a more limited forum, he nonetheless renewed his argument that there was no evidence presented by the U.S. authorities against Seawell.
He based this on a look at the committal bundle presented by attorney Robin Jones Hahnert, which contained a number of depositions from persons alleged to have been involved in the drug smuggling operation.
On the face of them, Saldivar claimed, the documents did not carry the indication that they were properly sworn before a legal authority such as a notary public, judge or magistrate, and they did not indicate whether the deponents were aware of their obligation to tell the truth under penalty for perjury.
Under Belize’s law, Saldivar argued, these documents would not be admitted as evidence, and they do not pass muster under the British Extradition Act of 1870 which governs extradition procedures in Belize; nor, he said, do they satisfy the requirements of U.S. law, especially in Ohio.
Secondly, Saldivar claimed that because of a delay of nearly 15 years since authorities first became aware of the matter, it would now be “unjust and oppressive” to send Seawell to the U.S. for trial, as this would place him in the position of having to defend himself and recall places and events of which his knowledge in the present day is limited.
Authorities first sent indications to Belize of extradition for Gary in 2006, nine years after the operation supposedly ended.
Seawell was picked up in 2009, but his case did not officially go to hearing until last October, 2013.
Thirdly, similar grounds were presented alleging abuse of process. Since his client was not the cause of the delay in prosecution, according to Saldivar, it didn’t really matter whose fault it was – Belize’s or the U.S.’s – because the end result would be the same. Seawell would not receive a fair trial in the United States and did not receive a fair trial in Belize, he told the court.
Saldivar submitted that whether deliberate or accidental, the delay was an abuse of process and for that reason Seawell should not be extradited, as in his own view he would not able to properly account for where he was and what he did at the time, or bring credible witnesses to do so.
In reply, Illiana Swift of the Solicitor General’s Office stated that the court was only responsible for looking at whether the accused was properly detained, and it was clear that authorities had gone to the local judge and notary public and followed procedure.
She added that it was not for Belize to determine how the laws of the United States applied in this case, and that Seawell had not sufficiently proven that it would be unjust and oppressive for him to be extradited because his claims could be addressed in the U.S. court system.