JFJ/Observer Column Article – Police Arrested My Son, What Can I Do?

Jamaicans For Justice’s (JFJ’s) series on detention concludes this week with a practical scenario.

Jermaine Lawful, a young man from Mount Olympus is awakened around 4:00 am by the knock of the police saying, “Dutty bwai, Jermy! Open di door an’ gi wi a search”. Jermaine immediately jolts from his bed, opens his door in a bid to prevent any confrontation with the police. Upon opening the door, he is immediately accosted by a burly police officer who ‘holds him in his waist’ while three other police officers rampage through his home for any items they can find. After about 30 minutes searching, the police officers decide to take him with them. Jermaine Lawful is now in police custody. His mother, Ms Patsy, rushes to the station to demand the release of her one ‘bwai pickney’ and wonders what should be her next steps.

1. Find out the reason for detention
The first thing Ms Patsy must do is ask to speak to the investigating Officer / custody officer / senior officer in charge of the station to ask why Jermaine is in custody and whether he was arrested on a warrant. If she is having difficulties in relation to the above, she can contact the officer in charge of the station/the Commissioner of Police for further assistance. These enquiries could lead to Jermaine’s release, especially if there is insufficient reason for his detention.

2. Length of detention — habeas corpus applications
If Jermaine is arrested with a warrant, the police may hold him for 24 hours before charging him. At the expiration of 24 hours the police must charge or bring him to a justice. If Jermaine is not charged within 24 hours, a lawyer/duty counsel may be contacted to do a habeas corpus application on his behalf. A habeas corpus application is done in a Resident Magistrate’s Court and essentially asks for Jermaine to be charged or released.

If Jermaine is arrested without a warrant, he must be brought “forthwith” before a Justice of Peace who shall enquire into the circumstance of the alleged offence and either commits him to the nearest lock-up/jail/prison or grants him bail in accordance with the Bail Act. If he is committed, he should be charged within 24 hours or released.

3. If Jermaine is charged — request bail
If Jermaine is charged, Ms Patsy may request that he be offered bail. Jermaine must not be held in custody for longer than 24 hours without the issue of bail being considered. The police may offer Jermaine bail unless he is in custody on a charge of murder, treason or treason felony. If the police refuse bail, he should ask to be brought to a justice or to court for a judge to decide whether to grant bail.

4. Get Jermaine to court
Once Jermaine’s case is set to go to court, Ms Patsy should ask the police for the court date and call the court house to get a confirmation. Afterwards, she should retain a lawyer. She can hire a private lawyer or seek the assistance of Legal Aid Council.
Jermaine’s matter can end with a conviction or a dismissal. If the matter is dismissed, he may seek legal advice in relation to suing the government for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution. If Jermaine is convicted, he can accept the sentence or appeal it.