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Commentary: Celebrity and criminal justice: A test of the Jamaican criminal justice system
Published on April 2, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Derrick Miller

During the recent murder trial of Jamaican rapper (Vybz Kartel), a few of my colleagues with strong roots in the Caribbean across several islands followed the proceedings closely. Although we were thousands of miles away, the anticipation felt as if it was Usain Bolt getting ready to run a final 100-meter sprint and his records were in jeopardy.

derrick_miller.jpg
Derrick Miller holds a Bachelor of Science degree in economics and finance, an MBA degree in global management and a Master of Science in criminal justice leadership. He is also a graduate from a top US federal law enforcement academy and has been a part criminal justice and public service field for over 14 years. mhmld@aol.com
Our discussion was not about his guilt or innocence. The anticipated verdict was more about the Jamaican justice system, and how they would handle the final disposition, including the far-reaching effect over the Caribbean in general on celebrity justice, victims, and what statement it would send to the next generation, where trust is often ranked low as it relates to the criminal justice system.

The trial was bigger than the prosecutors, defence counsel, witnesses, law enforcement and how they gathered and preserved evidence or the lack of communication, and proper procedures.

It bought back memories of the O.J. Simpson case where he was found not guilty on a double murder charge. The trial put criminal justice in focus. It was a combination of how law enforcement conducted themselves, money, celebrity, and class.

Although (Vybz Kartel case did not receive the same worldwide notoriety such as the O.J. Simpson case in 1995. Several in the Caribbean watched this case closely as to how justice would be served. Quietly, to many, this public case brought back memories of previous ones in which prior politicians, the rich and powerful people in the region often walk away free, even when the evidence points more than likely that a crime has occurred.

This is not to say that all rich, famous, and powerful defendants were guilty in all previous cases. However, as many Jamaicans waited in anticipation of the verdict, the alert for civil disobedience and vigilante justice was high. However, the Jamaica judiciary system rose to the challenge and maintained order after the verdict. What was even impressive, many became educated with the jury system, and how the overall the court process works for the first and the media played an important role.

Often in regions where poor economic conditions still have a strong hold, justice is often seen through the eyes of one’s economic status, and notoriety. In fact, as much as we would like to see a balanced system, in many cases these trial outcomes mirror several other countries based on one’s race, sex, creed, and colour. The mandated strategies to combat crime, and public safety should not create a generation of hopelessness. It should ensure that when penal codes are violated, the rule of law as written in the “said constitution” remain intact.

Rule of law, public service, and safety are extremely important, whether in a democratic or totalitarian system of government. Promoting central control is responsive government. This concept ensures that the right people are being selected, and the departments are staffed properly to maintain integrity, and correspondingly balance the public safety mission.

Today, a majority of us still look at the criminal justice system as “justice for the right price.” This is true especially when many individuals are being incarcerated not because of overwhelming evidence, or simple probable cause is found beyond a reasonable doubt. It is simply because they could not afford the defence needed to poke holes in government cases, and the ones who are sworn to uphold the law are being bought off from behind the bench.

The idea of celebrity justice is almost like policing and its evolution what I consider moving from the boardroom into the public space. Criminal justice throughout the Caribbean region has been evolving such as the police force that was first developed within the context of maintaining a class system that protected private property in the early 18th century in Great Britain and now has become a decentralized system globally.

There is no doubt this verdict will be debated for months to come, and somewhat opens a new frontier as to how this process really works. Debating the rule of law is nothing new. When other nations adapted the British common law, they also went through a period of amendment after it had been tested in the court of law.

When colonial British powers stretched throughout the Caribbean region, it not only brought slaves, but a criminal justice system that set the foundation how government protects its people and implements justice. Often, as history has shown us, only a few have benefited between haves vs. have-nots. However, this verdict, regardless of one’s position, should provide some hope.

Many in the island perhaps never understood how the judicial system works, and the responsibility that comes with being selected even as a juror. Now that the verdict is in, the region must begin to educate itself, from the primary schools to colleges on how the process works and expectation of a fair and balanced justice system and regardless of the defence one can afford.

The verdict has tested the Jamaican judicial system, law enforcement procedures and what role entertainers play in the system, and if justice can be bought. This verdict is more than just one man, and the impact will have a lasting effect. On the other hand, if the government does not use this opportunity to send a message, very soon key departments will no longer be capable of functioning to their fullest capacity as required to maintain public safety and a fair and balanced system.

What is sad from this verdict, despite a modernized process, it appears when a crime has been solved in the region, several departments remain on trial thereafter, such as the Vybz Kartel’s conviction.

The final analysis is that Vybz Kartel’s new jail number will not make a difference on the Jamaican stock exchange, or how many more prisons will be needed or an improvement to the economic condition. On the other hand, if this criminal trend continues, soon Jamaica and other areas will have to build more prisons as one of the untold stories in the justice system and especially where more prisons are being built and privately owned. They often need clients/customers to keep their operations going. As a result, the lives of the less fortunate among us seem to have diminished to debits and credits on a balance sheet or a ticker symbol trading in the stock markets.

The concept that entertainers were immune from the criminal justice system in Jamaica has now been proven incorrect. However, it seems the blame game continues as to what went wrong, and what could have been done differently? Training is now critical and, if the body of government that plays a vital role in upholding the law refuses to investigate gaps from preserving of evidence, and ensuring that officers can conduct comprehensive investigations from the emergency system to tracking criminals, to redefining agility and structural deficiencies, then public trust will still continue to decline.

We have to be careful not to blame everyone immediately if the outcome was not favourable to expectation. Dedicated employees might have made some mistakes in the process, but what has been taking place after the verdict is that law enforcement seems to have become the focus of the debates. Going forward, the government needs to set up a commission to look at these issues to see if understaffing and proper training in those vital areas need to be addressed immediately.

How do we get there? The system should convene an independent commission, which will be far from coerced-subjectivity and politics, to review any lapse in compliance that has led to overall deficits across the agency that necessitates action. It is important that they work together and communicate about the overall agency process and ensure continued security is adhered to and that accessibility to sensitive information is restricted to authorized users only.

Checks and balances are always needed, and although it can slow the process from hiring to implementation of human resources functions; however, urgent action is needed to address the dedicated staff concerns and going forward provide some level of oversight both internal and external.

I had never heard of him before this trial. However, I realize that he has a huge following, and some might not agree with the outcome, and that is fine and democratic in any society. We cannot force anyone as to who to love. On the other side, imagine the impact he could have had mobilizing the next generation on to better things. I am still optimistic that this time justice was in the open, and not taken up in the hands of a few through retaliation.
 
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Comments:

Mario Kepple:

Well written piece, as good a piece as could be written from someone on the outside looking in. Cuts straight to the main issues that need to be addressed, though I must say things are always easier said than done.


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