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Leaked Report: Belize’s conviction rate at 37%

By Javan Flowers

Belize’s conviction rate for the prosecution of serious crimes—contrary to the common belief that it is as low as three percent—stands at 37.17 percent, a leaked forensic report of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) informs.

The document titled “Forensic Situational Analysis of the Prosecution of Serious Crimes in the Supreme Court of Belize” revealed that the conviction rate for the prosecution of serious crimes in the Supreme Court of Belize for years 2014 to 2021 is, respectively, as follows: 25.89%, 23.4%, 24.05%, 23.01%, 31.3%, 30.8%, 35.2%, and, as of 2021, 37.17%.

The figures are roughly ten times higher than what is generally believed, a point that the report highlights. “Unfortunately, there is the public perception that the conviction rate for the Prosecution of Serious Crimes in the Supreme Court is 3%,” notes the report. “This perception is far from the reality. In fact, between 2014 and 2021 the conviction rate ranged between 25.89% and 37.17%.”

While reporting on the rate, the document does acknowledge various challenges facing the office. “Despite these fundamental challenges, the ODPP, which has struggled with staff retention issues for over a decade, is doing fairly well,” the report noted. It added, “Consequently, a conviction rate 30%, in all the circumstances is rather hopeful especially within the context of the problem being faced with the unavailability and non-appearance of witnesses.”

The document notes that the rate calculation was achieved and represented as a percentage, dividing the total number of guilty verdicts by the total number of matters before the court each year – including the Nolle Prosequis.

Last year, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams had spoken on this matter saying that the public perception was misguided. “Certainly, we have heard the notion for quite some time now that our murder conviction rate is at 3 or 5%,” Williams said.

“That was not the actual rate we had, but that's the public perception. … The police department as well as the Office of Director of Public Prosecution, has been given a bad rap, per say, in that we were either unable to properly investigate or the prosecutors were unable to properly prosecute. Even though, if you were to do an analysis of the cases… you would see that a very high percentage of those cases fell apart due to none cooperation of witnesses particularly this year.

The report also highlighted several internal and external challenges faced by the office. These will be explored in subsequent articles in The Reporter.

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