20 February 2013

Liberia: Arrest & Charge

As rape is now a non-bailable offence under the Liberian criminal statue, presiding Judge Ceaineh Clinton-Johnson of Criminal Court 'E', with exclusive jurisdiction over rape cases, has warned magistrates they have no further jurisdiction over cases of sexual offense after arresting and charging suspects.

"Let me remind you that your authority ends with making arrest and charge. There seems to be a problem with you all transferring cases within the 72-hour deadline in keeping with law. Please remember that you have no jurisdiction over sexual offense cases," she told magistrates.

Judge Clinton-Johnson sounded the caveat during the opening of the February Term of Criminal Court 'E' that occurred separately from other criminal courts on grounds of being a special court in the country.

She described the engagement of magistrates in conducting preliminary investigation into any sexual offense cases as "being completely out of order."

Judge Clinton-Johnson, believed to be among the brains behind creation of Criminal Court E, later alarmed how a huge number of cases have been thrown out of court through the nolle prosequi provision that allows state prosecutors to petition the dropping of cases due to insufficient evidence to prosecute them.

She insisted that the dismissal of these indictable offenses was a complete embarrassment and frustration to the court, and wondered why prosecuting attorneys would indict people and later somersault for nolle prosequi for the defendants.

Court records reveal that 280 cases on the docket were thrown out due to lack sufficient evidence.

Since the establishment of the rape court on 9 February 2009, it has recorded 34 cases for trial, with 18 guilty verdicts and 15 acquittals.

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