No leniency for young serial burglar

POSTED: 06/5/14 5:01 PM

Court has no confidence in cross-border cooperation

St. Maarten – An 18-year-old orphan who committed eight burglaries at homes in the Simpson Bay and Beacon Hill area found no leniency in the Court in First Instance yesterday. He left the courtroom with a 30-month prison sentence and 2 years of probation. Of the sentence, 26 months are conditional. Because the boy has altogether already spent 54 days behind bars, he still has another 64 days to go – if the sentence is ever executed.

The defendant, David Britus of French Saint Martin, committed his first burglary when he was just 14. In August, September and November of last year another seven burglaries followed – in Simpson Bay, on Welfare Road, Onyx Road, in Beacon Hill and on Sr. Patientia Road.

The defendant mostly stole iPhones, money, credit cards, car keys (and on two occasions the cars that went with it). His most brutal burglary was on September 12 of last year, when he entered a house on Simpson Bay Road at 6 a.m. The woman who resided there was in the bathroom, texting on her iPhone. Britus snatched the phone from her hands and left the premises.

Asked why he had done this, the defendant told the court, “I needed a phone.” Police quickly managed to arrest the culprit – with two (stolen) phones in his possession. He spent ten days behind bars, but after his release on September 22, it did not take long before he went back to his old ways. “I had no money,” he explained to the court.

Judge Koos van de Ven however, told the boy that the aunt he is living with told police that she gave him money whenever he needed something.

The defendant confessed to some of the burglaries, feigned memory-loss on other occasions and fell silent when the court confronted him with DNA and finger print evidence of his presence on several crime scenes. At one house, detectives found a piece of a joint on a balcony; tests showed that it contained the defendant’s DNA.

“You know what the punishment is for one burglary?” Judge van de Ven asked the young defendant, and when no answer was forthcoming, he provided it: “Fifteen months. You are accused of eight burglaries and you have already confessed to four. This is not good for you.”

Asked to give the court one reason why he should not be sent to jail for his crimes, the defendant had little to say. “I want to change my life, I do not want to go to jail,” he said.

Since his parents passed away when he was still very young, Britus has lived with an aunt. He also has a history on the French side and the authorities on the other side of the border already sent him once to a boot camp in French Guyana. After that period, the authorities found a foster family for him in Guadeloupe where he currently lives.

Prosecutor Karola van Nie considered all charges against the young defendant proven. Even though she asked the court to apply adult criminal law in this case, she also considered the boy’s personal circumstances. “No parents, living with an aunt, and no supervision,” she summed up the dismal situation.

When the French-side authorities wanted to send him to the boot camp in French Guyana, it appeared that the boy had no nationality. Nobody had ever thought about regulating his paperwork.

Van Nie said that together with colleagues on the French side, serious efforts have been made to find solutions. “This is an example of cross-border cooperation in the interest of a minor,” she said.

The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Britus to 22 months of imprisonment – completely conditional – with 3 years of probation and with the condition that he performs 180 hours of community service in Guadeloupe. “He should abide by the instructions from the French-side judge. It is possible to do this,” she said.

Judge Van de Ven doubted this, but Van Nie persisted. “The past half year we have made an approach to our colleagues on the French side. We all want practical solutions in the interest of minors. When the will is there, it is possible to create far-reaching cooperation. But this is new; this has never been done before.”

Attorney Paula Jansen told the court that her client’s rights to consultation with an attorney prior to interrogation had been violated and she asked therefore to exclude the evidence investigators had obtained this way. This turned out to be a moot point, because Britus confessed in court to some of these burglaries. Jansen pleaded for an acquittal for four of the burglaries for lack of convincing evidence.

Judge Van de Ven acquitted Britus of just one charge for lack of evidence, but he considered all others proven. “When you were arrested the first time you spent ten days in jail,” he told the youngster. “Apparently that was not enough of a warning, because after your release you started again. These are serious crimes.”

The judge did not buy the defendant’s statement that he prefers to burglarize houses when there is nobody home. “I do not believe you; the fact show otherwise,” he said.

It became rapidly clear that the judge had no confidence in the plans of the prosecutor to have the defendant do community service in Guadeloupe. “Her plan depends on your preparedness to cooperate. If you are refusing to get back on the plane to Guadeloupe you could walk around here again tomorrow.”

The Judge furthermore considered the equality principle with a reference to earlier court rulings for similar crimes. “I am not giving you community service either,” Van de Ven said. “I have no confidence in the fact that this will be executed. I want to see a guarantee on paper that this is possible first.”

The court sentenced Britus to 30 months of imprisonment – with 26 months suspended – and 2 years of probation. The court terminated the suspension of the defendant’s detention.

That decision did not have an immediate effect, because Britus could still leave the courtroom a free man, with 14 days to decide about an appeal.

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