PHILIPSBURG–Attorney-at-law Geert Hatzmann makes a plea with the Minister of Justice to establish a fund to pay victims of crimes who have been awarded damages in the framework of a criminal case.
The lawyer made this plea in connection with a Joint Court ruling of July 11, in which Rolandito O.N. Richardson was sentenced to 12 years for the rape and robbery of a 62-year old woman, for raping a 19-year-old woman and mistreatment of a 66-year-old woman.
In its ruling, the Joint Court awarded damages of NAf. 15,000 each to two of Hatzmann’s clients for immaterial damages.
Richardson, who in 2009 has been convicted of rape and sent to jail for eight years in Anguilla, is absolutely without any means. As a consequence, it is certain he will not be able to pay damages to Hatzmann’s clients.
“Also in future we cannot have any illusions. For starters, Richardson will not be having a job for the next eight years, as this is the minimum prison term he will at least have to spend. Therefore, he cannot have an income to at least start paying damages,” Hatzmann explained.
The lawyer was not aware of the fact that Richardson stood trial again on Thursday on charges of attempted murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault, for which he is facing six years. Also in this case, the victim filed for damages (see related story).
Hatzmann said it is obvious that employers will not be waiting in line to give the “violent sex offender” a job.
“I formally asked Richardson’s lawyer yesterday, Wednesday, when his client will pay the damages awarded to my clients, but in fact it is already certain that there will not be any payment.”
This way the damages awarded by the Joint Court may turn into a Pyrrhus victory for Hatzmann’s clients, who are now under threat of becoming victims for a second time. “For me this outcome would not only be extremely dissatisfying but also totally unacceptable,” said Hatzmann.
That is why he made an “urgent appeal” to the Minister of Justice to ensure that the awarded damages will be paid out to his clients.
There are two reasons for this, the lawyer explained. “First of all it is the explicit wish of the lawmaker in the new Penal Code to pay more attention to the victim in criminal cases and to reinforce his position.”
This means that Government has the obligation to ensure that crime victims receive compensation. “It cannot be that the casual circumstance that a perpetrator has money or not decides whether a victim gets retribution or not,” Hatzmann said.
According to the lawyer, it would be better if the Minister of Justice pays damages to the victim first and then claim the money involved with the perpetrator, “how difficult this may often be.”
He said this procedure is already common practice in the Netherlands since 1975. From 2018 victims of violent crimes in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba may also appeal to this fund, which is managed by the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice.
Hatzmann said it is “high time” for St. Maarten, which is “rattled” by heavy and violent crimes, to also establish such a fund for victims.
The lawyer is also critical of the Prosecutor’s Office behaviour towards victims of crimes. He said Prosecutors often fail in providing them with proper information about the correct procedure to file for damages. He said this has led to victims missing substantial amounts.
“How often in armed-robbery cases are damages claims handled by the Court? Exactly, hardly ever, while it concerns people who have been threatened with a firearm, who have looked death in the eye and are often heavily traumatised.”
Hatzmann concludes that the Minister of Justice, Parliament and the Prosecutor need to ensure that victims of (violent) crimes receive financial compensation for their suffering. “The Prosecutor’s Office should be more proactive in informing victims about the possibilities to file a claim against suspects and perpetrators,” he said.
Bron: Daily Herald