Commentary: Celebrity and criminal justice: A test of the Jamaican criminal justice system

Published on April 2, 2014: By Derrick Miller

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The anticipated verdict was more about the Jamaican justice system, and how they would handle the last 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, defense counsel, witnesses, law enforcement and how they gathered and preserved evidence or the lack of communication, and proper rules.

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 about how justice would be served. Quietly, to many, this public case brought back memories of earlier ones in which earlier 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 earlier 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, often 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 make sure that when penal codes are violated, the rule of law as written in the “said constitution” remain intact.

Jamaica Slum Standoff

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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 keep up 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 people 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 evolved 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 about how this process really works. Debating the rule of law is nothing new. When other nations adopted the British common law, they also went through a period of amendment after it had been tested in the court of law.

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Old England

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Old England

Baristers U.K.

Baristers U.K.

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 offer 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 rules 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 keep up 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 stay on trial afterwards, such as the Vybz Kartel’s conviction.

The last 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.

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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 about 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.

Blame Art

Credit: Blame Art: “So often people say, “There’s plenty of blame to go around!”

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 taken 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 under staffing and proper training in those vital areas need to be addressed immediately.

How do we get there? The system should meet an independent commission, which will be far from coerced-subjectivity and politics, to check 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 make sure 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 discuss the dedicated staff concerns and going forward give 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 about 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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