The cries of pregnant cancer patient Melissa Evans echoed throughout the Port-of-Spain Magistrate’s Court yesterday after she was told she had to spend a night in prison after being denied bail in
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AG wants approval of anti-crime weapons
T&T has more “cold” crime cases than “hot” ones and there’s been a marked increase in drug mules passing through T&T, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday. Ramlogan gave the above information when explaining his reasons for defending anti-crime legislation in Parliament that would allow police to obtain DNA samples from suspected criminals.
Noting the Akiel Chambers murder case, he said the law would give authorities a data bank of samples with which to compare and make matches when DNA evidence is obtained. Unless there was something to compare a sample with, he said, all the evidence the police collected would simply be a “police museum.” Ramlogan was responding to complaints from People’s National Movement (PNM) MP Marlene McDonald about aspects of the legislation.
She said visitors to T&T would have to be fingerprinted and this would negatively affect T&T’s relations, especially with Caricom which has significant trade with T&T. She said it would also affect T&T’s tourism and investment if people didn’t want to be fingerprinted. “You have to afford Caricom nationals equal treatment as T&T nationals,” McDonald said.
She also protested sections of the legislation which would allow authorities to take a suspect’s blood sample for DNA purposes and store it for 20 years. She felt that violated suspects’ rights. In response, Ramlogan said, “If you think you’ll scare away investors by asking them to be fingerprinted, the majority of states, from the US and UK to European nations, also require this in their laws. Uncle Sam (the US) particularly requires fingerprinting, and investors don’t flee the US—so be realistic.”
He said the law wouldn’t deny entry to anyone, but sought to regulate immigration procedures that allowed people into T&T. Saying all states had laws to protect their citizens, Ramlogan said when he visited the Bahamas recently he wasn’t allowed to enter, since he had not had a yellow fever shot. He said he had to get one and then was allowed to enter.
Noting the incident in which an Erin couple’s house was burned down by bandits after they were robbed, Ramlogan called on the Opposition to put decent law-abiding citizens’ rights ahead of suspects’ rights when it came to taking DNA samples. Out of 14,033 prisoners, he said, 581 have three convictions or more and T&T’s recidivism rate was 40 per cent. “We’re sitting on a time bomb,” Ramlogan added.
“We make no apologies, this is hard-hitting law. If this is a constitutional invasion of their privacy, then so be it. T&T is being held to ransom by a small group of criminals and it’s time to stop the tail from wagging the dog.” He said the US and other places stored DNA samples for up to 75 years.