Belize’s serious-crimes conviction rate, as of 2021, stands at 37.1 percent, but nolle prosequis (case dismissals) account for more than 46 percent of the final outcomes, a recent audit of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution informs.
According to the 2022 report entitled “Forensic Situational Analysis of the Prosecution of Serious Crimes in the Supreme Court of Belize,” in 2021, there were 78 serious crimes taken before the courts. Data informs that the individual outcomes for those cases are mixed, with 29 guilty verdicts, seven “not guilty,” and 36 case dismissals.
It is important to note that the report includes case dismissals within the calculation of the conviction rate, citing Justice Sonya Young’s comments made in Claim No. 586 of 2019 (Aaron Bailey v. Attorney General of Belize): “The issue of whether or not a nolle prosequi is a favorable conclusion to the matter in my estimation is without doubt as the Claimant was not convicted.”
Of interest, however, is the statistics on the reasons for the case dismissals. In more than 30 percent of the dismissed matters, the victim reportedly did not wish to proceed.
This was closely followed by the “no evidence against the accused” or “insufficient” evidence instances which account for another 18 percent.
As the forensic analysis report puts it, “Data collected from the ODPP … informs us that the unavailability of witnesses and insufficient evidence has had and is having a serious effect on the disposal of cases for the period 2014 to 2021.”
Furthermore, it must be recalled that while a nolle prosequi is a formal conclusion to a prosecutorial matter, it does not prevent the ODPP from reopening the case. This much is laid out in section 174 of Belize’s Indictable Procedures Act, which states:
“The Director of Public Prosecutions may enter nolle prosequi either by stating in court or by informing the court in writing that the Crown intends that the proceedings shall not continue and, thereupon, the accused person shall be at once discharged in respect of the charge for which nolle prosequi is entered, and if he has been committed to prison, shall be released, or if he is on bail, his recognisance shall be discharged, but his discharge shall not operate as a bar to any subsequent proceedings against him on the same facts.”
Regarding total outcomes for prosecutions, case dismissals account for an average of 40 percent from 2014 to 2021.