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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor calls for stiffer bail amounts to curb violent crimes

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi

By The Star Staff

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said on Tuesday that he recognizes the need to amend the Puerto Rico Constitution, as unlikely as that may be, to add the element of imminent danger in cases involving a person accused of a violent crime such as murder, in order to impose a higher bail as a criminal deterrent.

He made his remarks after the island’s first massacre of 2024, in which five individuals were slain in an apparent drive-by shooting on an expressway exit in Ceiba.

“Under our constitutional system, bail is imposed to guarantee the appearance of the accused in judicial proceedings. That’s how it is,” the governor said. “What happens is that there are accused, and there are accused. When we have an accused who is, let’s say, a member of a drug trafficking organization, who clearly has economic and legal resources, but he is a highly dangerous person who, again, since he has great resources could evade justice, it is important that judges set an amount, set a very substantial bail amount.”

Pierluisi said setting bail should be proportional to the type of crime.

“I recognize that our Constitution does not -- and we tried to amend it at a given time and the amendment did not succeed -- it does not establish, it does not allow it to be taken into consideration, [that] bail be imposed merely because of the dangerousness of the accused person,” the governor said.

He said judges must take into account the risk that the accused person may not appear in court.

The governor’s statements were made in the aftermath of the first massacre of 2024, which occurred Monday night on PR-53 in Ceiba, where four men and a minor were gunned down while traveling in a Toyota Tundra (see related story on page 6).

“Well, from the information I have, it is related to drug trafficking,” the governor said. “The situation is deplorable; we are talking about young people as a general rule, including a minor under 16 years old who was heavily armed; there were illegal weapons in the motor vehicle that was involved in this massacre. It was a shooting that occurred in the Ceiba area. The information I have is that the young people came from the Fajardo area, they went to a cockpit fight in Naguabo, and when they were returning to their point of origin, well, apparently they were intercepted.”

Despite the bloody event, Pierluisi noted the reduction in murder statistics and the arrest of “gatilleros” (shooters) as an achievement of his administration.

“Today we have two fewer murders than last year. And last year was a record low number, a 20 percent reduction in murders when we compare 2023 with 2022,” the governor said. “It has been a 30 percent reduction when we go back to the beginning of 2021, and to find a similar number of murders.”

As of Tuesday, at least 28 people had been reported killed so far this year in Puerto Rico, compared with 30 in the same period last year.

“The important thing is that we continue the downward trend, that the police continue to do their job and get the other agencies involved,” Pierluisi added. “I am talking about, for example, [the] Justice [Department], the SIP [Special Independent Prosecutor] Panel, the Bureau of Special Investigations, among others. The federal authorities are working shoulder to shoulder with us.”

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