Women and Justice: Court: Court of Appeal of Belize

Domestic Case Law

Longsworth v. The Queen Court of Appeal of Belize (2012)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The appellant threw an accelerant on her husband, followed by a lit candle.  She then immediately attempted to douse the flames in water.  Her husband died and she was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.  On appeal, the appellant attempted to introduce new evidence that she had suffered from Battered Women Syndrome (“BWS”).  This evidence was not available during the appellant’s trial because there were no qualified forensic psychiatrists available in Belize.  The Court of Appeal granted the appeal on the ground that (1) it was capable of belief; (2) it was relevant to the issues before the jury; (3) it would have been admissible at trial; (4) the trial attorney had been asked why no medical evidence was presented at trial; (5) the new evidence may have caused the jury to decide differently; (6) the evidence supports a defense of diminished responsibility and (7) it cast doubt as to the reasonableness of the verdict and admission of the evidence was in the interest of justice.  The court considered the findings of an experienced and distinguished professional in the field of forensic psychiatry who examined the appellant, interviewed witnesses, and reviewed trial documents and found that the appellant’s history and behavior was consistent with BWS.  The forensic psychiatrist concluded that the appellant had been physically, sexually, financially, and psychologically abused by her partner for nine years.  This abuse, together with the appellant’s response to the abuse, was found to be consistent with BWC.  The Court reduced the appellant’s sentence to eight years.  This case was the first time that a court in Belize admitted new evidence in relation to BWS and PTSD in connection with a defense of diminished responsibility. 

Meyers v. The Queen Court of Appeal of Belize (2017)

Statutory rape or defilement

The appellant was convicted of carnal knowledge of a female child under the age of 14.  During trial the complainant claimed to not remember anything about the night in question or even where she lived, her mother’s occupation or place of work, or where her best friend lived.  When the complainant continued to “evince no desire to cooperate with prosecuting counsel” and stated her previous statement to the prosecution about the night in question was untrue, the trial court granted the prosecution permission to treat the complainant as a hostile witness.  However, the Court of Appeal faulted the trial court for the fact there is “no indication in the record that the judge took the steps dictated by long established practice in this jurisdiction to demonstrate that [the trial judge] formed, at the proper time, the opinion that [the complainant], being then a child of only 13 years, understood the nature of an oath.”  Given the importance of the sworn testimony of the complainant on the identification of the appellant, the court ordered a retrial and granted bail on the condition the appellant stayed away from the complainant and her family. 

Gabourel v. The Queen Court of Appeal of Belize (2017)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

The appellant was convicted of grievous harm (was also charged but acquitted of rape) and was sentenced to a fine of $10,000 or in default a term of three years imprisonment, as well as being ordered to pay the complainant $3,000.  The appellant appealed, arguing that the trial judge erred in law by not giving a proper instruction to the jury on the issue of self-defense.  The Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction, finding “no miscarriage of justice,” where the jury “clearly accepted the version [of events] given by the complainant in relation to the offence of grievous harm, and rejected the version given by the appellant,” and a different self-defense instruction would not have changed the result.

Gutierrez v. The Queen Court of Appeal of Belize (2018)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment, Sexual violence and rape, Statutory rape or defilement

The appellant was convicted of raping a 16-year-old female colleague and was sentenced to eight years in prison.  The Court of Appeal granted a retrial because the trial court had “erred in failing to give a proper/adequate direction to the jury.”  Under Section 92(3)(a) of Belize’s Evidence Act, a trial court has discretion to “warn the jury of the special need for caution” where the only evidence against a person charged with rape is the word of the victim.  Where a judge exercises such discretion, he or she must provide the reasons for cautioning the jury.  The trial judge did caution the jury in the case, but the Court of Appeal found he had erred by not warning the jury that the complainant had lied during her testimony and by not pointing out the complainant’s admission that she had been raped was made only after being threatened by her father.  The Court of Appeal also found that the trial judge should have warned the jury that the complainant “may have had some kind of relationship with the Appellant.”

Taylor v. The Queen Court of Appeal of Belize (2018)

Sexual violence and rape

The appellant was convicted of abduction and rape and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.  The complainant was kidnaped from a car, driven to a remote location, and raped multiple times by two men.  Upon arrival at the remote location, the police chased after the two men, but only caught and arrested one of the men – the appellant.  The complainant testified that the appellant wore a stocking mask, and although he had spoken to her many times the night of her kidnaping, she did not recognize him until his stockinged face was illuminated by a car light.  This identification was not made until a few days after the police arrested the appellant.  The Court of Appeal quashed the convictions because the trial judge did not direct the jury on issues related to voice identification in general or concerns related to the timing of complainant’s identification.  The Court of Appeals also faulted the prosecution for not conducting a controlled identification procedure to test the complainant’s ability to identify the appellant by the sound of his voice.  The Court did not however order a retrial because it found the evidence to be “insufficient to justify a conviction by any jury which had been properly directed” due to the “glaring evidential gaps”.  

Lawrence v. The Queen Court of Appeal of Belize (2018)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Femicide

The appellant was convicted of the murder of his romantic partner of eight years and was sentenced to life in prison.  On the night of the murder, the appellant first beat his partner in front of her three children. One of children called the police to report the beating, but the police failed to respond to the residence.  Following the beating, the appellant left the house, but returned an hour later, broke into the house, and stabbed his partner to death.  The appellant then drove his partner to the hospital where he was subsequently arrested. At the appellant' trial, testimony revealed that the appellant was under the influence of drugs and alcohol at the time of the killing and had a history of domestic violence. The first issue before the Court of Appeal was whether the trial judge gave adequate instructions on the potential for intoxication to be taken into account when deciding whether there was an intent to kill for the purposes of the appellant’s defense.  The Court of Appeal found that such instructions given by the trial judge were adequate.  The next issue decided by the Court of Appeal was whether new evidence from a forensic psychiatrist based on a single interview with the appellant regarding the appellant’s mental health necessitated a new trial.  The Court of Appeal found the new evidence to be less than credible, but exercised discretion to substitute the original conviction of murder to a conviction of manslaughter and reduced the appellant’s sentence to 18 years.  In reducing the sentence, the Court of Appeal began with the range of sentences for murder applicable a street fight (being 15 to 20 years), although acknowledged that the instant case differed in that it was a “vicious attack on an unarmed victim.”  Taking into account appellant’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, the Court of Appeal began with a 15-year sentence and then added three years to reflect the aggravating factors of “the choice of weapon, the number of stab wounds, the presence of the children and the previous violence he inflicted on the deceased about an hour before the fatal incident” to arrive at the 18 year sentence ordered.