Court to decide the meaning of arrest
Murderer can walk or remain behind bars, depending on definition
By: L.N. Reklai
August 4, 2016 (Ngerulmud) Defining what an “arrest” and a “speedy trial” terms legally mean was the center of an oral argument presented yesterday at Ngerulmud in the case of Mengeolt vs. ROP, a criminal appeal case before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. The outcome of this argument can mean a confessed murderer walking out free or remaining behind bars, sentenced to serve time for Second Degree Murder charge.[restrict]
Serio Mengeolt, who was charged for Murder in the Second Degree and Rape of Teruko Kingya in December 2014, filed a motion to dismiss the case against him, stating ROP’s failure to charge him within 30 days after his initial arrest in 2009, is in violation of Palau’s Speedy Trial Act.
Trial Division denied Mengeolt’s motion to dismiss the case. He pled guilty on September 2015 and was sentenced on October 2015. In November of 2015, he filed an appeal to declare the decision of the Trial Division denying his motion to dismiss to be in error.
In Mengeolt’s appeal, he quotes 18 PNC 403 and 404, which basically states that if a person is arrested for some offense, he or she must be charged within 30 days or the charge is dropped or dismissed. In his appeal to dismiss, he said he was arrested by the police numerous times in 2009, 2013 and 2014 but was not charged until December 2014, 1,900 days after his first arrest in 2009. He said, therefore, the charges against him of murder and rape must be dismissed because the Speedy Trial Act was violated. In the appeal, he did not argue or defend against the facts of the case, his confession of murder and others’ implication of him committing the crime of murder and rape.
The government argued that there are different types of arrests defined in the law and one of those arrests defined by 18 PNC 211 is “arrest and detain for examination”. According to government argument, “arrest and detain” is different from the general definition of arrest and that the law goes further to differentiate it from other types of arrests. It is an investigative tool used to collect information that may either put a criminal behind bars or free an innocent suspect, according to the government.
The government details the initial criminal case to explain why Palau legislature made a point of differentiating “arrest and detain for examination” from other types of arrests. The horrific murder and rape of the 70 year old woman in her home took number of years of investigation, interrogation, and witnesses coming forward to come to where a charge can be filed against the people who committed the crime. It further states that Mengeolt only confessed to the crime in 2014, years after his initial detainment and after his co-defendants have implicated him in the crime and other evidences including DNA has been brought out. All this would not have been possible, if officers were forced to file a charge within 30 days of initially detaining Mengeolt and interrogating him about the crime.
In the decision issued by Chief Justice Ngirakelsong at the Trial Division, he stated that if every arrest started the 30-day countdown in Section 403(b), somebody should tell the Koror Jail warden to unlock most, if not all, of the cells and let the prisoners free. “Although this might be one effective way to solve the problem of prison overcrowding, it does not appear that the Speedy Trial Act envisions this result”, he stated of the motion to dismiss the case based on the definition that any detainment by the police is considered an arrest as defined by Section 403, and charges must be filed within 30 days of that arrest or be dismissed.
Government argued that the Trial Division’s decision should be upheld and that the motion by Mengeolt be denied. [/restrict]