Jurisdiction questioned in burglaries
Published: February 27, 2013
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. CROIX - A detention hearing scheduled for Tuesday in the cases of three men arrested and charged in connection with two different robberies in the space of two hours last month has been continued as attorneys debate the District Court's jurisdiction over the matter.
Rusiel Encarnacion, 29, of Estate Whim; Francisco Hassell, 27, of Estate Whim; and Edwin Hendrickson, 27, of Hannah's Rest, appeared before District Magistrate Judge George Cannon to be advised of their rights on federal charges of first-degree robbery, carrying or using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, possession of a firearm by prohibited persons, unauthorized possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm in a school zone, third-degree assault, possession of stolen property and unauthorized possession of a firearm during and relative to a crime of violence stemming from two armed robberies on Jan. 12 and 13.
The men initially were arrested by local police and already have been arraigned on the charges in V.I. Superior Court. However, on Friday, they were brought before the federal court after the case was transferred to the federal system, which has enhanced charges and more severe sentencing guidelines.
Before Tuesday's detention hearing got under way, attorney Emile Henderson III, counsel for Hassell, told the court that he was objecting to the hearing because it was unlawful for the court to entertain a detention motion in the federal case while the case arriving out of the identical facts and circumstances was still pending in Superior Court.
"The court has no jurisdiction to proceed since he has been released on bail in the Superior Court case," he said. "At this point, there is nothing that you can do unless the case is dismissed."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alphonso Andrews said that he was not in agreement with Henderson's arguments but that he would not be opposed to continuing the hearing until the cases are dismissed in the local court. However, the defendants would have to remain detained until such a time, no matter how long it took, Andrews said.
"I don't believe the court is stuck on this, there is concurrent jurisdiction, and there is no double jeopardy here at this point," he said.
Hassell and Hendrickson had been released on bail at the time they were re-arrested by the federal government, and with the cases not being dismissed in the local courts, it would result in simultaneous prosecution, which would violate their due process rights, according to Henderson.
Attorney Martial Webster, representing Hendrickson, and Gabriel Villega, representing Encarnacion, joined in the argument with Henderson, but they opposed the continuation, saying it was not in the best interest of their clients.
Cannon ordered the parties to submit briefs in the matter to express their position on the court's jurisdiction.
He said defense counsel should present their written arguments by 5 p.m. today and Andrews will have until 5 p.m. Thursday to respond in writing.
Cannon rescheduled the detention hearing and arraignment for the men to 9 a.m. Friday.
In the affidavit supporting the arrest warrant for the three men, FBI special agent Thomas Calhoon said the men were charged in connection with an armed robbery reported near a Peter's Rest bar and a second robbery in Christiansted town. The charge of possession of a firearm in a school zone was added because of the close proximity of the bar to the Church of God Holiness Academy, just a few hundred feet east of the bar.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email email@example.com.