New hearings Friday in Saint Martin

Thanks to the arrival of new judges, the Court of Saint Martin is able to hold three correctional hearings per week of which a new one of immediate appearance.

A few years ago, a clerk and a judge were coming especially from Basse-Terre to supplement the composition of the Court of Saint Martin, and allow the organization of hearings in Marigot. Today, the court is able to hold a third weekly hearing with its own means, without the involvement of Basse-Terre, thanks to the strengthening of locally recruited staff. It will be held each Friday * as part of immediate appearance.

This procedure allows the Prosecutor's office, according to the nature and complexity of the cases, to request that individuals are tried at the end of their custody, sometimes only days after the commission of the facts. The benefit is a rapid criminal response.

If this procedure has been possible for decades in France, it is in Saint Martin only since 2012. Previously, judges and clerks were not numerous enough to be able to provide this kind of hearings and the defendants were referred to Guadeloupe. As a matter of fact, they require the presence of three judges, a deputy prosecutor and a clerk. As a matter of fact, nearly all of the staff of the Court of Saint Martin. However, it is difficult for them to all meet at the same time due to their respective assignments. In 2012, thanks to a reorganization of the justice system in Guadeloupe and Saint Martin, immediate appearances became possible in Marigot, in this case on Wednesday.

The first year, about ten appearances took place. In 2015, a dozen files were reviewed and twenty-three individuals have been convicted. Most of them had committed armed robberies or narcotics trafficking. To the judicial authority, immediate appearances allow to send a strong message to the local population; it doesn’t leave unpunished perpetrators of violent acts that are shocking the public opinion.

The sentences are often severe, a minimum of two years in prison without parole. Warrants are also usually requested. Some individuals go to prison for two or three years only a few hours after robbing.

In addition, trials take place locally allowing defendants to be supported by their relatives. If during first hearings, few families were coming, today, this is no longer the case. They are often many of them.

Nevertheless, in order to remain a condition for the holding of an immediate appearance on Wednesday, the arrest of the accused has to take place at the end of the weekend, or even early in the week. If the perpetrator of a crime is arrested midweek, he is deferred to Basse-Terre while in custody, because it is impossible, according to the law, to keep an individual several days in custody in Saint Martin before their judgment.

In 2016, the creation of the new chamber of Saint Martin was accompanied by a human support. In fact, a second deputy prosecutor arrived in September 2016 and a fourth judge will be coming next September. These new conditions allow the holding of a second immediate appearance each Friday.

Furthermore, as part of the creation of the new chamber, pre-trial detention was made possible in Saint Martin for three days of an individual pending his judgment.

Thus, today, in 2017, in Saint-Martin, regardless of the day of his arrest, an individual can be (finally) tried locally.

* Three hearings may be held: Thursday (single judge and collegial body), every Wednesday and Friday for immediate appearances. In addition to the juvenile court hearings, that take place on Tuesday.

Estelle Gasnet