Sanniquellie Criminal Court has accepted a request by the prosecutors to move the case of 12 persons accused of damaging millions of United States dollars’ worth of properties within ArcelorMittal’s concession area in Nimba County, to Buchanan, Grand Bassa County.
Prosecutors had contended and claimed that the prospective jurors would set the defendants free if the case is tried in Nimba County.
Sanniquellie is the capital city of Nimba County. ArcelorMittal is the world’s leading steel and mining company, which has most of its Liberia operations in Nimba.
Article 21 (H) of the 1986 Liberian Constitution guarantees that a criminal trial “shall be held in the vicinity where the said crimes shall have been committed,” and to assure the right to a trial “by an impartial jury of the vicinity or county wherein the crime shall have been committed.”
But the Supreme Court has held that these place-of-trial provisions sometimes have to yield in order to comply with the “Due Process of Law” particularly if “extraordinary local prejudice will prevent a fair trial.” In some cases, a fair trial means a somewhat distant trial, and the defendant has the right to waive geographic protections that, in certain cases, become burdens to neutral justice.
In their request for change of venue, the prosecutors argued that the case be decided outside of Nimba County, where the crime had taken place, avoiding the jurors trying the defendants in the very area that they had allegedly destroyed millions of United States dollars worth of properties of the company.
They also argued that doing so would grant the state the legal relief necessary to assure a fair trial. Interestingly, the request was granted by the court after the defense team interposed no objection. The case is widely seen as one where the real battle between prosecutors and defense will come at the sentencing stage of the trial when the jury will determine whether or not to find the defendants guilty.
The 12 persons were charged in early July 2014 with multiple charges, including rioting and armed robbery. All have consistently denied taking part in the commission of such crimes when they appeared before several courts, including the Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice.
They were among 41 persons, who were allegedly involved in the riots and were subsequently released on bail.
Initially, the defense team’s request for bail to allow the defendants to be temporarily released from further detention at the Monrovia Central Prison was denied by the court.
The court had said that the crimes levy against them are capital offense and are non-bailable. Under the law, a suspect is usually allowed to get out of jail by posting bail unless he or she is accused of a capital crime.
A capital crime is a crime such as murder, rape, or armed robbery that is punishable by long prison sentences, life imprisonment, or death. Bail, or surety, is generally denied by the courts for defendants accused of these types of crime.
In many cases, bail is also denied if the defendant is a repeat offender or if the crime is a violent one.
Also, bail is a certain amount of money or property value that must be posted with the court.
The defendants are also accused of setting ablaze ArcelorMittal’s properties, including several pieces of mining equipment, a locomotive train, and made away with several valuable items.