Ambitious stay out of jail plan and crazed
responses when there’s no instant gratification
by Eric Jackson
This is the legal theory, from the defendant’s point of view, in bold type. This reporter’s notes and comments are in parentheses and italics.
The US extradition only allows Ricardo Martinelli to be tried for the charges upon which the extradition request was based.
(This, based on a “specialty principle” on which extraditing governments may impose restrictions on which penalties may be imposed, or which cases may be brought. Several years ago there was an atrocious case where in a California bunker a woman’s baby was slain in front of her as part of the making of a snuff video, she was killed after the child was, and one of the men who did it escaped to Canada. The Canadians, as they usually do, conditioned their extradition on the offender not being executed. California honored that.
When the French government extradited Manuel Antonio Noriega to Panama they conditioned it on no more trials for the former strongman, just the completion of a sentence handed down in absentia.
Such conditions are agreements between governments rather than rights that accrue to defendants. The extraditing government many change, or may change its mind. Courts where the prisoner is sent may strike down such restrictions — as was done in Noriega’s case, except that by the time it was done by Panama’s courts he was too ill to stand trial.
In any case, unless there is some unpublished agreement, the United States imposed no special restrictions on Ricardo Martinelli’s extradtion.)
By resigning from the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) at the right moment, the Panamanian Supreme Court would have begun a trial on the wiretapping and theft charges for which Martinelli was extradited, the high court would lose jurisdiction and the case could not be remanded to the lower courts because for them to try the ex-president would amount to double jeopardy. Thus the only charges for which Martinelli could be tried would be thrown out and he would walk free.
(Martinelli’s resignation from PARLACEN was delayed by a letter that was not in the proper form. On June 27, two days into Martinelli’s trial, that body acknowledged receipt of Martinelli’s resignation by noting it on the day’s agenda.
But the notion that a trial can be stopped in the middle of proceedings by an act that changes jurisdiction is not an established norm of Panamanian criminal law. The high court, in particular magistrate Jerónimo Mejía who is acting as judge in this case, has not specifically ruled on the point but neither has he treated it as an argument with merit.)
As it became clear that his ploy was unlikely to work, both Ricardo Martinelli and his lawyers have acted with increasing desperation, while Mejía has kept his cool but not budged. Monday it was the former president in his underwear and refusing to leave his cell for the court appearance, but some nine hours later by some means being brought into the court. There he alternated between holding his hands over his eyes like a toddler playing ‘if I can’t see you, you can’t see me’ and complaining about his health.
After that display jail conditions became more restrictive for Martinelli, including a squad of cops carrying him out of his cell to come to court.
Then there was the handwritten note to a legislator asking for help in removing the judge. (There will be a recusal motion about Mejía before his colleagues. It is not expected to prosper, but then these are the Panamanian courts.)
So where are the crowds of supporters, actual or rented? Few people have shown up to support Martinelli. Shall we cite the former first lady? Actually, her tales have been so wild and demonstrably false that The Panama News will leave it to the Martinelista media to treat her as a reliable source worthy of being quoted.
Is there a conspiracy to kill Ricardo Martinelli? Mejía might be tempted by the circus mounted in his courtroom to kill the guy.
On June 28 Mejía ejected one of Martinelli’s lawyers from the room for applauding the presentation of a fellow member of the defense team. Martinelli’s grand entrances and exits seem calculated to get one of the cops to slug him. The stream of motions from Martinelli’s lawyers range from the groundless to the weird, with Mejía playing the role of wise old law school professor with dumb students for whom the study of law is way over their heads, explaining things ranging from from basic principles to finer points.
Some of the private prosecutors for those whose privacy was invaded have also put on strange displays that are unlikely to help their legal careers. For example, when, a couple of years ago, the high court began to move the extradition process for a former president living in a Miami area condo, part of that was for the court to state that Martinelli is reasonably suspected of committing crimes. That is, “imputing” those crimes to him. In proceedings before the lower courts against those who carried out Martinelli’s wiretap orders, there were special hearings to impute the crimes to them. Not so for Martinelli and both defense lawyers and one of the private prosecutors pressed for such a hearing in this matter. But Mejia ruled that imputation had happened long ago and if Martinelli was not in court to hear it, that was his own doing.
Bottom line? If Ricardo Martinelli can buy a ‘get out of jail’ card, he has yet to do so.