Representational Image (by Eshan Kalyanikar)
The Public Defender’s office called for the special prosecutor to look into cases involving narcotics enforcement agents following the court’s rulings to dismiss multiple drug charges against different individuals due to illegal search and detention.
In a press statement issued to Island Times, Acting Chief Public Defender James Hanley said that he is happy about the court’s rulings “and grateful that the justices involved considered all the facts and protected the constitutional rights of those involved.”
“The Public Defender’s Office will continue to fight for the rights of the people of Palau any time they are the victims of illegal conduct by the police and I hope that special prosecutor’s office will look into the actions of the NEA (Narcotics Enforcement Agency) agents involved,” Hanley stated.
According to the Public Defender’s Office, four drug trafficking and three drug possession charges in three separate cases were recently dismissed by the court due to police violations.
In a case, two counts of Trafficking a Controlled Substance and two counts of Possession of a Controlled Substance charges against Horsely Saka were dismissed by Associate Justice Kathleen Salii on January 14 after the Attorney General’s office reportedly failed to produce confidential informants allegedly used by the NEA agents in the case.
Associate Justice Salii ruled that defendant Saka had a constitutional right to cross-examine confidential informants if the AG wanted to use their statements at the trial.
The court also found that the NEA agents’ search and detention of several individuals on board a Peleliu state boat on January 24 were illegal, citing lack of warrant and authority to detain passengers.
The press statement revealed that the Peleliu state boat boarded by Jeremiah Basiou along with other passengers was held by NEA agents upon arrival in Koror where they were then searched.
“The passengers, including Jeremiah Basiou, were told they could not leave unless they submitted to a search of themselves and their property,” the press statement read.
It even added that NEA Director Ismael Aguon also ordered his officers to take Basiou into custody and brought him to their headquarters where he was held until a search warrant for his bags was secured. During the search, police allegedly found around three pounds of Marijuana in his possession and was soon charged with Trafficking a Controlled Substance and Possession of a Controlled Substance but the court ruled that any evidence against Basiou was inadmissible, citing that the search warrant application prepared by the NEA was lacking probable cause and “should not have [been]issued.”As a result, the AG dismissed all charges against him.
In an interview, Director Aguon told Island Times that it is “too bad” the court decided that they did not have enough probable cause to conduct the search but he was quick to add that despite the outcome of the case, they were able to seize the illegal drugs from the defendant.
“Unfortunately, we did not get any conviction but we did seize the Marijuana,”Aguon said, explaining prior to this that their office maintains the stance that Marijuana is illegal and that they will continue to respond and investigate any information given to them by the public.
Meanwhile, Presiding Justice Odiais Ngiraikelau also found that NEA acted illegally in a case filed under seal when they detained a passenger arriving at the Roman Tmetuchl International Airport. According to the Public Defender’s statement, the defendant had been searched multiple times but the court later ruled the act as illegal and ordered that any evidence obtained from the search was inadmissible. The defendant, according to the statement, had been charged with Trafficking a Controlled Substance.
Aguon said in the interview that their office is mandated to collaborate and improve efforts to foil dangerous drugs trafficking at ports and the inland.He further asserted that there was no violation of rights in the case as the defendant was allegedly trying to bring in the drugs.
“I don’t know what they are saying.What else do they want us to do? Do they want us to just open the border and let this thing come in or do they want us to just go after them because here we are, we clearly went after him, the information was good, we seized the drugs, we charged the person and then the judge says it did not amount into a probable cause search,”Aguon expressed.
Aguon explained that as a law enforcement agency, they will keep on enforcing the law and keep on trying to achieve positive results in the cases they are working on.
(Rhealyn C. Pojas)