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Double jeopardy lands Guat xateros behind bars

Two Guatemalans caught in the Chiquibul on June 14, and charged with firearms offences and drug trafficking were freed of the charges in the San Ignacio Magistrate’s Court, but were sentenced to prison in the Belmopan Magistrate’s court.

Adelmo Mancia, 24, and Rolando Ramirez, 35, the two xateros, who were picked up on the Caracol Road by a Joint Forces Team for the Friends of Conservation and Development, who turned them over to the San Ignacio Police.

The two men were charged for being in possession of a 16-gague shotgun with five cartridges and a .38 revolver with three rounds. They were also charged with drug trafficking for 64.6 grams of marijuana.

When the men appeared in the San Ignacio Magistrate’s Court, through an interpreter, they pleaded guilty to the charges.

But after the court’s prosecutor read the police facts of the case, the Magistrate, who is a trained attorney, dismissed the charges against them.

The Reporter has learned that the charges were dismissed, because apparently the police facts did not add up to make the connection of possession by the two accused men.

But they were not set free, nor were they handed over to the Immigration Department so that they could be properly expelled from Belize. Instead, the police attempted to bring them back before the same Magistrate the following day.

The Magistrate, however, refused to hear the case a second time.

So, using the same charge sheet from San Ignacio, the two were taken to the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court.

Upon seeing the San Ignacio information of the charge sheet, the Belmopan Magistrate asked why San Ignacio charge sheet was coming before her.

Again, through an interpreter, the men pleaded guilty.

But they were not so fortunate this time. The Belmopan Magistrate sentenced them to eight years in prison.

That second appearance in another court for the same offences appears to be in violation of Belize’s Constitution and is referred to in law as double jeopardy.

The Constitution of Belize is quite unambiguous about that kind of situation when it says: “A person who shows that he has been tried by a competent court for a criminal offence and either convicted or acquitted shall not again be tried for that offence or for any criminal offence of which he could have been convicted at the trial for that offence, save upon the order of a superior court in the course of appeal or review proceedings relating to the conviction of acquittal.”

What the Constitution is saying is that if the prosecutor in the San Ignacio Magistrate’s Court was dissatisfied with the Magistrate’s decision to acquit the two men, he should have appealed that decision or file for a judicial review of the decision.

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