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Jamaica: House of Representatives Passes Bills Easing Admission of Drug Crime Evidence

(Jan. 15, 2021) On December 8, 2020, Jamaica’s House of Representatives passed amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1948, and the Evidence Act, 1843. If enacted, the amendments would introduce new procedures for securing and disposing of drugs seized in connection with drug crimes and enable the admission of drug samples and recorded images as evidence.

The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2020 (DDA 2020) would regulate the preservation and destruction of evidence obtained from drugs seized during a search of premises conducted under a judicial warrant or an order by a high-ranking law enforcement official in accordance with the conditions enumerated in sections 21(4) and (5) of the Dangerous Drugs Act. The evidentiary status of samples or records preserved in accordance with DDA 2020 for admission in a criminal trial would be further regulated under the Evidence 2020 Bill.

Destruction of Drugs When No Charges Are Filed

DDA 2020 would allow a police officer above the rank of superintendent to authorize the destruction of drugs seized if no charges have been filed in connection with the drugs within 21 days following the seizure, provided that

  • the likelihood of a person being charged with an offense in relation to the drugs is remote, or
  • a government chemist or analyst has certified that destruction of the drugs is required in the interest of public health or safety.

Preservation of Drug Samples and Records When Charges Are Filed

Under DDA 2020, if charges were or are about to be filed in connection with the seized drugs, the presiding court could, on the application of the director of Public Prosecutions, authorize the destruction of the drugs before the completion of the relevant legal proceedings if, before the destruction, evidence of the drugs has been taken in a form sufficient to establish the nature, location at the time of seizure, quantity, size and weight, and packaging of the drugs. Such evidence can include

  • recorded images, whether by photographic, video, digital, or other means;
  • a documented laboratory analysis of the drugs by a government chemist or analyst; or
  • a retained sample of the drugs in a prescribed amount.

Evidentiary Status

The Evidence 2020 Bill provides procedures for handling samples and images of items lawfully seized by an officer on reasonable grounds of having been obtained or used in the commission of an offense, for use as evidence of the commission of the offense. Such samples and images would “have the same probative force as the thing would have if proved in an ordinary way.”

Potential Impact and Status of the Amendment Bills

According to Minister without Portfolio Matthew Samuda, of the Ministry of National Security, the adoption of the two bills would eliminate the need to move large quantities of drugs to and from court, and it would prevent “the unfortunate occurrence” of seized drugs finding their way back into drug trafficking.

“They will allow for the court to order the destruction of seized drugs generally, provided that appropriate samples of the drugs have been taken safely and are adequately secured,” the minister observed.

“So, it will reduce the possibility of corruption, eliminate or minimize evidence tampering and reduce the need for large storage and prevent storeroom congestion,” Samuda said.

In addition, the amendments would codify into law the 1996 Practice Directions regarding the handling of large drug evidence issued by the director of Public Prosecutions.

To become law, the bills would require approval by the Senate and a royal assent given by Jamaica’s governor-general.