Stolen Property

First Published: 2004-11-06

The following is Appendix V of the Report on Trade Liberalization by the Tourism Taskforce published in April 2003. This case is a chronology of the experience of events that was intended to demonstrate how the rule of law is violated in the Bahamas.

V. Stolen Property

A current case illustrates the point that the justice system needs to be revamped. The principals are identified as John and Jane Smith…she is Bahamian and he is American. When John retired early in the United States, they elected in 1998 to relocate to Nassau where Jane would manage the remaining commercial real estate inherited from her deceased parents; and they jointly would start an Internet based service company for Bahamian business. The story starts with one property and one lessee identified as “Client” that produced three “related” legal disputes:

The Eviction, Cutlass Assault and Assailant cases.

1. Client signed a five-year lease with Jane’s mother in 1996.

2. Jane in early February 2000 gave Client a 90-notice to vacate on the basis that he violated the terms of the lease…he was $4,000 in arrears on his rent. This is the Eviction Case. In addition, he violated the terms of his business license and the “environmental code” insofar that he was polluting the water table. This conduct caused Jane to lose the renter on an immediately adjacent property.

3. In May 2000 Client erected a sign in violation of the lease agreement.

This was the occasion for the Cutlass Assault Case that ran parallel or at the same time as the Eviction Case. While John and Jane were supervising a handyman in removing the sign, Client and a relative arrived on the scene and Client pushed both John and Jane and threatened them with death with the cutlass in his hand. The police were called, took the cutlass but did not arrest Client.

a. The Attorney General’s Office did not prosecute the Client for “assault with a deadly weapon”; and John and Jane on their inquiry were told that the police lost the case. With a direct appeal to the Chief of Police, the case was recovered and a prosecution date was set.

b. In July 2001 the Magistrate hearing the case excused himself from the case and another Magistrate took it in September.

c. The case came to trial in October 2001. The arresting officer did not appear with the cutlass and the Bahamian handyman, who witnessed the entire affair, simply refused “to get involved” and was never called for fear of his becoming a hostile witness. The Magistrate issued a warrant for the officer’s arrest and adjourned the case.

d. The case came to trial in December 2001 but the Prosecutor was new to the case and the cutlass and the officer who took it from Client were not present. The case was adjourned.

e. The case reconvened in January 2002. Client testified that he did get upset and did indeed come running out of the building with a cutlass that he “held at his side the whole time.” The Magistrate adjourned the case to review the documents and develop his judgment.

f. The case reconvened in February 2002. Client was not present; the Magistrate still was not able to give a judgment and he adjourned the case.

g. The case reconvened in March 2002 and the Magistrate acquitted the Client of the charges “because the prosecution did not adequately prove its case.”

4. In the first week of June 2000 Jane took possession of the building, locked Client out and hired guards.

5. One week later Client forcibly re-occupied the property at night. The Police were called but would make not make an arrest since it was a “civil matter” for the courts.

6. Jane immediately initiated new eviction proceedings through the Magistrate's Court.

7. The case convened on June 16th, 2000. Client failed to return to court and the Magistrate ordered Client to leave the premises within 30-days.

8. On July 17th Client requested a new hearing to overturn the eviction and got it.

9. The court reconvened on August 4th, 2000 and the Magistrate ruled in favor of Jane and ordered Client to leave the premises immediately. He did so for three months.

10. On November 7th, 2000 Client broke in and reoccupied the property. He had a notice of appeal that was “granted out of time”.

11. The next day Client filed for an injunction allowing him to remain on the premises until the appeal went through. The injunction was wrongly issued since John and Jane were not present and it was based on false information.

12. As of the date of this Report Client is still occupying the building and not paying rent; and the legal actions of John and Jane are suspended pending a ruling on the Client’s injunction. Separate from this experience at this property Jane was assaulted and robbed of $1,200 in February 2001 while she was collecting rent at another property. A car approached her as she was leaving the property; the Assailant jumped out, grabbed the rent envelope and hit her in the face causing her to fall.

The sequence of events that follows is the Assailant Case:

1. Jane filed a Police Report and got a medical examination. The domicile of the Assailant was known but it took John 4 months to get the police to arrest him.

2. In late 2001 the case charging Assailant with “causing harm” was convened. Jane presented her testimony and documentation but her witness and the examining doctor were not present. The case was adjourned.

3. The case was reconvened in January 2002. The assailant was not present and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

4. The case was reconvened in May 2002. The prosecution witnesses did not appear. These included a Jamaican women who worked for a law firm and who was the eyewitness to the assault, and the examining doctor, an Asian national. The eyewitness expressed a fear of reprisal by Assailant as the reason for her failure to appear.

5. The case reconvened in August 2002 but the Judge stated that she was not ready to hear the case.

6. The case reconvened in September 2002. The Assailant admitted that he stole the $1,200 but claimed that he did not hit Jane. He produced a witness that falsely testified that Jane was wearing 6-inch heals and tripped on the pavement.

7. The case reconvened 12 days later and the Judge indicated that he was not ready.

8. The case reconvened in October 2002 and the Judge was not present.

9. The case reconvened in November 2002 and Assailant was acquitted because the prosecution did not prove its case beyond the shadow of a doubt.

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