British v. American Criminal Justice System
by Brian McGuinness 7-22-2010

Earlier this week, I had an interesting initiation into the Bahamian criminal justice system. The Bahamas gained their independence in 1973 and previously had been a British Crown Colony. Their political and judicial system is still heavily influenced by Britain. I have traveled there multiple times on criminal cases and even have met with top police officials on one case involving money laundering; But, I had never attended a court proceeding before.

I sat in all day to hear testimony in a murder case trial wherein I am the defense investigator. I was in Supreme Court Number 2, Nassau, Bahamas. The building appears to have been constructed in the late 1800’s. The exterior has large white columns and pastel pink walls with white trim. Inside, the courtroom is large with white moldings and light green pastel colored wall panels. The jurors, all twelve and alternates are seated on the left side and the prosecuting attorney and his assistants and defense counsel and his assistants sit at dark wood bench style desks in the center.

The Court Clerk and his assistant sit at a desk facing out toward the attorneys and audience. All the lawyers wear the traditional British white wigs and black robes with white cravats. The Judge wears a more ornate crimson robe with black vertical sash complete with white wig and is addressed as "Your Lordship" and presides from a raised platform oak desk fifteen to twenty foot long.

The defendant sits in the "dock" the traditional box in the center of the courtroom behind defense counsel. The various trial assistants, all wearing similar wigs and attire, sit at desks facing the judge. I noticed that a prosecution witness, the DNA expert who has testified numerous times in the Bahamas turned toward the bench and bowed as he exited the courtroom.

It was interesting to hear the prosecutor continually refer to defense counsel as "My learned friend". It was all so, shall I say “civilized”! Aside from these trappings and unfamiliar surroundings, there was a common theme, a drama: a young man's future at stake and another's future lost, the 37 year old victim who was an internationally known handbag designer. It is a front page murder case and has captured the public’s interest in Nassau.

The prosecution case is weak and hinges on suspect DNA evidence. There is no other evidence to implicate our client in the murder. There were mistakes made in the analysis. The defendant is also alleged to have stabbed the victim (his father's business partner) multiple times while on crutches from a basketball injury.

Our defendant is a soft-spoken, polite 23 year father of two who says he has no knowledge of the crime. His father, the victim’s business partner was a suspect for a period of time and his DNA blood sample was excluded. Yet, nine months later his son’s sample was taken and was matched to trace DNA evidence at the scene. If you know anything about DNA evidence, that should raise a flag in your mind. The case is likely to go to the jury today and I am very hopeful that our client will be exonerated. This is a case where I really believe that our client is innocent!


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