Attempt to smuggle Brazilians to Puerto RicoPOSTED: 07/1/11 7:36 PM
Attorney says clients completed crime and should be acquitted
St. Maarten – Defense attorney mr. G. Hatzmann did what is seemingly unthinkable in the Court in First Instance yesterday. He argued that his clients, two Puerto Ricans accused of an attempt to smuggle thirteen Brazilians from St. Maarten to their island, had actually committed this crime. “But my clients have only been charged with an attempt at human smuggling. Because they have completed the crime, and because they are not charged with that, they have to be acquitted.”
Prosecutor mr. G. van der Wulp demanded 30 months against handyman Carlos Julio M-R., 51, and retired truck driver Marcial R., 64. Judge mr. M. Keppels will pronounce her verdict on July 20.
The two ageing Puerto Ricans came with their boat to St. Maarten at the request of two men, identified as Jorge and Flaco, to transport a group of Brazilians that had traveled from their country via Panama to St. Maarten with the intention to reach United States Territory.
The two defendants admitted to the charge, though Carlos Julio M.-R. told the court that he thought the enterprise was “a bit risky.” He said that there was no agreement with others about payment for the transport and that he had not received any money either.
According to the case file, the defendant told police that he stood to receive close to $10,000 for the transport. The group of Brazilians, 13 to 14 strong, had been brought aboard at the Chesterfield Marina, but when the defendants got wind of the approaching Coast Guard they told everybody to leave the vessel.
“It was dumb of me to come here,” M.R. admitted, though he kept contesting the content of his statement to the police. That statement contains for instance the line, “I thought they’d be illegals because they paid a lot of money for it.”
The Coast Guard found backpacks on board of the vessel containing Brazilian passports. One of the Brazilians later went to the police to retrieve his property. He told officers that he paid $500 for the trip to Puerto Rico to a young man called Angelo.
When the group of Brazilians arrived in the marina and boarded the vessel, the defendants claimed they got cold feet. “I decided not to take them. It was too risky so we got them of the boat,” Marcial R. said. Carlos M.-R. added, “”We decided it was not a good idea after all. It was not worth it. I am an honest and hard working man. I usually don’t do that kind of stuff. I was stupid and look where I end up.”
Prosecutor Van der Wulp said that defendant M.-R. constantly changed his statements. “He accuses the police of fabricating statements, but his signature is on them. I keep him to his statement that he would get paid $9,750 for the transport. The story that they changed their mind at the last minute is not plausible. They suspected that they were about to get caught.”
The prosecutor said that there are always people looking for a better life, “and others who make a profit from that. They were about to sail with thirteen people on that boat with two crew members. It would not be the first time that such a boat capsizes. I wonder if they had life vests aboard for everyone.”
Van der Wulp said that the average penalty for completed human smuggling transports in the Caribbean is six years. “This is an attempt, and it is a one-time action.” She demanded 30 months imprisonment.
Attorney mr. G. Hatzmann announced that he would plead for acquittal, based on the fact that the charge cannot be qualified. “The charge is attempted smuggling, while in fact this is a completed crime,” Hatzmann said. “Because my clients have not been charged with the completed crime but with an attempt they have to be acquitted.”
For his defense against a possible penalty, the attorney had looked up 51 court rulings about human smuggling cases and the penalties defendants had received. “There are ten criteria that play a part in sentencing, like the number of transports, the combination with other crimes like membership of a criminal organization and the profit level.”
Hatzmann ticked off all criteria and he concluded on all points that his clients qualify for a milder punishment – if it comes to a punishment at all. “I am shocked by the prosecutor’s demand. I ask the court to look at the average penalty and not to go above twelve months.”
Prosecutor Van der Wulp acknowledged that there was a qualification problem, because the Brazilians were legally in St. Maarten.
“It is either a completed crime, or it is making preparations for a crime, but it is not an attempt,” Hatzmann concluded.