Drug trade: Customs officials in West Indies are concerned about the impending abolition of search rights

In September 2022, the Constitutional Council announced that an article of the Customs Code is unconstitutional and that it should be abolished on September 1, 2023. The problem: this article is the cornerstone of the work of customs officials, especially overseas customs officials, who want a quick rewrite. from the text.

Repeated drug seizures in the West Indies and Guyana are often the result of searches that customs officers can carry out based on very specific legislation: Section 60 of the Customs Code.

Dated December 1948, it is very brief and reads in full: “For the purpose of applying the provisions of this Code and for the purpose of detecting fraud, customs officers may inspect goods and vehicles and check persons..”

Translation: allows officers “Check any person, any vehicle, any goods in all places authorized to control by customs: on the road, borders, airports, stationsEstelle Torbal, UNSA Customs Antilles-Guyana interregional secretary explains. This applies to all vehicles, even ships..”

Article 60 is the basis of our profession”Pierre-Marie Hilaire, Secretary of the Autonomous Customs Union – Guadeloupe CGT (SAD-CGTG) confirms.

However, following a priority constitutional question raised by a lawyer from Burgess (Lion), the Constitutional Council declared on 22 September 2022 that this article is unconstitutional: the framework in which it can be applied is too vague, the right to freedom of movement and to respect for private life is contrary.

However, the Elders realized that the immediate repeal of this Article 60”will lead to obvious extreme results“, that is, to allow drug traffickers the freedom to circulate without worry. Therefore, they postponed the repeal date to September 1, 2023, to give the legislature time to rewrite the text.

Despite this precaution, lawyers from France rushed to this unconstitutional violation to defend their clients accused of drug trafficking. Even more surprisingly, some won their cases with the magistrates, although they remained marginal. This was the case last December in Reims, where a judge invalidated the seizure of 2.3 kilos of cocaine and acquitted the defendant.

Have there been such cases abroad? In Guyana, where the cocaine trade has grown to alarming proportions”no problem so farMustapha Khiter, a lawyer specializing in criminal and customs law in Cayenne, reports. At present, the magistrates approve the control based on the Article 60 visa.

In Guadeloupe too, according to Pierre-Marie Hilaire, such a case has not yet emerged for several reasons. Most searches are conducted at an airport or port rather than on the road on one or more suspected human traffickers.

There is always a representative of the transport company when conducting pre-destination container inspection“, he explains. According to him, the presence of this representative creates a legal basis, because it allows customs officers to open the container, conduct a search according to the rules and see several violations of the law, if any. one.

Another reason is that since the decision of the Constitutional Council “We are more careful during inspections so that it is not contested“, assures the representative of the Guadeloupe trade union, where the cancellation was announced “open Pandora’s box for lawyers“.

Finally, in Martinique, Pandora’s box remains closed for the time being. according to Interregional Secretary UNSA Customs, Fort-de-France Prosecutor’s Office “was questioned by lawyers on the subject“and he is very clear about it:”This is in accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Council“postponing the cancellation to 1er September 2023.

He thinks it reasonable to keep the text in force for the time being”to allow customs to proceed“Otherwise he would have signed”blank check on crime“: “If we can’t search a vehicle, a suitcase, we have nothing to characterize the crime“, and therefore confiscate the drugs and initiate legal proceedings.

It is for this reason that at the time of the publication of the decision of the Constitutional Council, the UNSA union “to the amazement of the staff“.

Same story on the SAD-CGTG side: “If we repeal this article, it jeopardizes the basis of customs control“, confirms Pierre-Marie Hilaire.

Primarily drug-related controls: In Martinique and Guadeloupe, approximately 70% of the surveillance activities of customs officers are related to drug trafficking.

Customs officials now only want one thing: the new text to come out as soon as possible.

It is important that the text be rewritten quickly, in consultation with the customs officers in the field who test the checks every day, respecting the recommendations of the Constitutional Council, so that we have a solid basis for doing our work.“, Estelle Torbal has a lot.

Despite everything, a representative of the trade union SAD-CGTG, who was somewhat worried about the result, shared the view: “We fear that we no longer have the same latitude to govern openly, which is more restrictive and leaves more room for criminals and their advocates..”

Customs officials, however, hope that the new item, which has been sitting for 74 years, will be finalized soon so that they have at least summer to adopt it before the 1st popular date.er September.

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