Editorial

Editorial

Proposed legislation introduced last week in the House of Representatives has set out long jail sentences for gang leaders and gang members who break the law, and lighter sentences for anyone who intentionally hides a gang member or offers him sanctuary from the law.
Sentences can run anywhere from 3 years for a mother or a sister or an aunt or any other person who conceals or hides or gives comfort to a gang member, to 40 in jail for a gang leader who is convicted a second time for gang-related activity.

If a gang leader or gang member shoots at a Police Officer or a Prison Officer, or a member of the Belize Defense Force or Coast Guard, if he is convicted he will go to jail for up to 30 years.

Ordinary citizens who are not gang related are affected also by the proposed new law. If a man or woman refuses to co-operate with the police by concealing information about gangs and their operations, such a person can be sent to jail for up to five years.
If a man or woman knows that there is a court warrant for a certain gang member and tries to shield or hide or protect that person, that man or woman can go to jail for up to three years, in addition to any other penalties the court may prescribe.

Any young person who uses gang insignia – tattoo or bandana or even the stiff-finger greeting puts himself in danger, even if he or she is not a gang-member.
The penalty for having an illegal gun or bullet has been increased from 10 to 15 years. Even a toy gun will land you in jail!

Crooked police officers are also included in the sweep of the proposed new laws. If a policeman or prison officer or coast guardsman or BDF soldier is convicted of a gang-related crime, he can go to jail on summary conviction for up to 10 years.
Parents of children will need to be especially careful because if a person under 18 is convicted of a gang-related crime, the penalty for the crime will fall on the parents, not the “child.” The law states specifically that any boy or girl under 18 is to be regarded as a “child”.

The proposed new law has implications even for journalists who report the news. Reporters who cover court cases will not be able to report everything that takes place in a gang trial. The journalist can report the name of an accused gang person, the offence for which he is charged and the verdict. Nothing more! He will need special court permission to say more.

If a patron pays a gang member to do something which is unlawful, that patron if convicted, will be subjected to a fine of up to $10,000 or to imprisonment for up to 15 years, or to both fine and imprisonment if the case is heard in a magistrate’s court. If the case goes to the Supreme Court, a fine of up to $20,000 is in order, along with imprisonment. If a company or corporation is involved, the fine can go as high as half a million dollars when the case is heard in the Supreme Court.
Gang people who try to recruit children to join their gang will face stiff penalties. They can be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail if they try to put pressure on young people to join their gang.

One more thing. Police prosecutors no longer have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that an illegal act is gang-related. So long as there is “a preponderance of admissible evidence”, any information “reasonably tending to demonstrate existence… of a gang”, is enough.
Any Supreme Court judge sitting alone, without jury, will have authority to try gang-related cases and to impose penalties which in some cases can be 40 years in jail for a gang leader.

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