Race discrimination in the US justice system and Forum bars extradition to Florida from British Virgin Islands

Two British Virgin Island nationals facing Drug trafficking conspiracy charges in Florida and sentences of life without parole were discharged by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Territory of the Virgin Islands when the Court upheld their habeas corpus claims and ordered their immediate discharge and release from custody.

Godfrey Smith J. held that there was an overwhelming case that extradition was unjust and oppressive and an interference with their constitutional rights because they should and could be tried in BVI.

The court found that it was “obliged to conclude” that there was credible evidence that there was a risk of prejudice at the sentencing stage of their US trials by reason of race if they were to be extradited to the United States.

The Judge accepted the Applicants’ evidence that a black defendant is 60 times more likely to receive a sentence of life without parole for drug offences than a white counterpart. The Applicants also relied on evidence from the United States Sentencing Commission that black male drug offenders received sentences that were 17.7 percent longer than white male drug offenders.

This was the first time a court has relied on racial prejudice as grounds for refusing extradition to the United States.

The court also concluded that extradition to face the real risk of a sentence of life without parole in the federal system in the United States constitutes inhuman treatment or punishment contrary to the Constitution of the BVI.

Edward Fitzgerald QC acted for Mr Hodge

Ben Cooper QC acted for Mr Harrigan

Instructed by Patrick Thompson from PST Law, BVI