Saturday, October 22 2011 @ 10:24 AM EDT
Contributed by: Don Winner
In a press release the National Police responded to the decision by saying the acquittal was limited to a specific case and therefore "does not declare as illegal the use of a technological tool in harmony with the police function, such as the Pele Police." "The case in question, and on which the sentence was issued, refers to the commission of offenses against public administration, the possession and trafficking of firearms and explosives, personal injury and theft, against several members of a family group," the statement adds.
However, in the sentence handed down in the case against Mr. Ponce Morales, reference is made to offenses against public servants because he hit a police officer. Even though, the judge decided in his favor because he responded in self defense to the excessive use of police force because they intended to handcuff him, his mother, his brother, and to deny him the ability to use his cellular telephone.
The lawyer Ernesto Cedeño thinks if this decision comes as part of a special case, it sheds some light over the interpretation in the general spectrum in similar circumstances. He thinks the "Pele Police" is a good tool in criminal matters, but (the application of this technology) deserves a regulation in accordance with the Constitution.
The Police Statement Described As A Coup: The lawyer Miguel Antonio Bernal lamented that the police as an institution is not competent to interpret the decisions of the judges or the law, and not even the Ministry of Government has made a statement, and they are the civil authority. "This press release is an absolute violation of due process, and it violates the Constitution and the fundamental guarantees of this country," said Bernal. Bernal insisted the police "are agents of authority and they cannot be releasing statements of that nature." "In this country the law must be followed, and not the whim of the police ... They are ignoring and violating (the law), and that is even more serious - it's called subversion," he said. He deplored that with their press release the National Police are subverting the legal order established in Panama. "They (the police) can not issue such a statement, this statement is similar to a coup ... it reveals the coup attitude against the law, held by the authorities there who have issued that statement," said Bernal. (Estrella)
Editor's Comment: Shortly after the administration of Ricardo Martinelli took office, they purchased and implemented the use of these handheld data devices dubbed the "Pele Police" system. It's really just a simple data input/output communications device. A police officer walks up to you and asks to see your "cedula" (identification card.) He then plugs that number into the "Pele Police" system and it quickly checks against a national database to see if there are any outstanding wants or warrants against you. If some judge is looking for you somewhere for a pending legal case - then you're arrested on the spot. Let's say you owe alimony or child support and the judge in the case has been trying to make you pay what you owe. If you run into one of these "Pele Police" checkpoints, you're caught.
No Law or Regulation: There is no existing law or regulation that either allows for or specifically prohibits the "Pele Police" or some other kind of system. The government simply purchased the devices and put them into the hands of the police officers on the streets, and in the past two years literally thousands of fugitives have been captured and hauled in to face the "competent authority" they had been avoiding, be it a judge, a prosecutor, a Justice of the Peace, or what have you. They also catch fugitives with these things, people who have already been tried, convicted, and sentenced - who have then either escaped from prison or who never turned themselves in to to their prison time after the conviction was handed down. The recent case of "Madame Thoyna" is a good example. She was convicted in two cases on charges of running a child prostitution ring - but she never did a day in jail. She was on the run and hiding since 2005. But the important issue remains - there was never any law passed or regulation issued that contemplates how and when and where and under what circumstances the National Police can apply or use the "Pele Police" system. And, lacking any formal guidance, they have been doing whatever they want.
Hard To Argue With Success: If you ask the general population at large, I suspect the vast majority would say they are in favor of the use of the "Pele Police" system, as it's being employed today. Most people are law abiding citizens, and since there are no pending cases, wants, or warrants against them - they will simply hand over their cedula, smile at the police officer, and say "have a nice day" after the check has been done. Then, they will glance over their shoulder and smile when they see the police hauling away the punk kid who was behind them in line - knowing he was wanted for theft, or murder, or drug trafficking, or kidnapping, or whatever. This "Pele Police" system makes everyone feel much safer - and in troubled times people are more willing to give up or suspend some of their personal freedoms and rights in order to clamp down on rampant crime and violence. Without a doubt, the "Pele Police" system has made it much easier for the police officers to quickly and easily screen large numbers of people, and to find the bad guys. It's been working, and it's hard to argue with success.
About The Police Press Release: I agree completely with Bernal on this one. Imagine if there was a court decision in the United States declaring that water boarding was illegal, and then the Chief of Staff of the Army issues a press release basically saying "well, that was just one case. We're going to keep doing it anyway, because it works." Whoa there, big fella... Bernal makes the excellent point that it's time for the administration of Ricardo Martinelli, the Ministers of Government and Public Security, together with the National Assembly, to draw up a new draft law which specifically authorizes and regulates the use and implementation of the "Pele Police" devices. Once the law is passed then implementing regulations can be issued, and then the Chief of the National Police will be on solid legal ground for the continued use and application of this technology going into the future. With this latest court decision on the record, now any criminal who is in prison thanks to getting caught at a "Pele Police" checkpoint could possibly mount the legal defense saying his constitutional rights were violated. OK, maybe that's a stretch. But if you're like this guy - what if you're not wanted and you simply refuse to identify yourself and hand over your cedula? Why? Because you simply don't want to. There's nothing that I'm aware of that says you have to. Hopefully moving forward the government will pass that new law and issue those new regulations. In the meantime, the future of the "Pele Police" system is questionable.