Impacting Lives in Uganda

My name is Samantha Placeres and I work with Jacob Franz (another Pepperdine Law student) in the Ugandan Criminal Court.

Recently, we have been concerned with a boy in our session whom may be of unsound mind.  While his offense is heinous, our concern has been what awaits for him in Kampiringisa.  Kampiringisa is a prison for juveniles that are convicted of their crimes.  It is commonly known that conditions in Kampiringisa are inhumane and medical treatment there would be beyond poor.  Thus, when the DPP and Defense agreed to a medical examination, I was given the task of researching Ugandan Law to see if it was possible to have the boy serve his sentence somewhere other than at Kampiringisa.

Using the Ugandan website of ULII, I began my research and compiled a memo discussing 1) which type of facility a person of unsound mind is supposed to be sent to, 2) if that facility must be Kampiringisa, and 3) if the High Court Judge has the authority to direct where the juvenile should be treated, considering in a capital juvenile case the High Court Judge is not the judge who by law determines the sentence of the child.  Upon finishing the memo I sent it in and received news that it would be used in trial.

Writing and Editing Briefs

Soon after sending in the memo, our Ugandan Family went to Masindi.  In Masindi, us ten partnered with four lawyers (Dean Gash, Director Jay Milbrandt, Dean Chase, and Michael Mudgett) to interview 22 juveniles from the Ihungu Remand Home and prepare their cases for trial. While we students were overseen by lawyers, each of us was assigned two juveniles to be “lead” on.  On our lead cases, we did the majority of the questioning, called and interviewed the witnesses, and compiled the juveniles’ briefs.

I was assigned an aggravated defilement case, sex with someone below the age of 14, and a simple defilement case, sex with someone aged 14 or above and not forced.  I was the first to interview and though I felt slightly like a guinea pig, I appreciated the trust and experience.  Having sat in on trial and sentencing for the boys back in Kampala, I had a good idea of which mitigation questions to ask.  More surprising was my ability to ask strategic questions to discover if the juvenile was telling the truth.  Indeed, whereas I believed the first case would be purely a mitigation case, I discovered that there was a CHANCE that it was consensual.  As for my second case, I did not have a case file to work from (police statements, etc.) and was the first person allowed to do a substantive interview on my own.  Not having a case file, this gave me a lot of responsibility to discover the juvenile’s story in detail and check for accuracy with follow up questions.  Though difficult, the boy was cooperative and in discussing life at the Remand Home I discovered that the boy had developed a physical disability and required medical treatment.  A fact that without thorough questioning would not have been discovered and could allow him to receive medical treatment or possibly a shorter sentence (time served).

Preparing for Interviews

The final day, I worked with Irene who served as an interpreter for our group.  I had approached Michael, and informed him that I wanted to follow up on a witness in the aggravated defilement case.  I wanted to know if the girl was actually 7 as the case file mentioned, or if she was in her teens as the boy adamantly persisted she was.  This fact would make or break his case.  If we could show that the family lied about her age, it was more likely that they lied about other things in their statements as well.  Michael gave me the option to either do the interview on my own or use his help . . . and I jumped on the opportunity to do it myself.

Previously, when I interviewed the juvenile, we had informed him of the weaknesses in his case and stressed that we had a better chance of helping him if he told us the truth, no matter how bad it was (together with Dean Gash, Jacob and I have been working on implementing plea bargaining in Kampala), but the boy would not budge.  So, I told him that I needed other people to attest to the girl’s age.  He thus gave us the name and number of a possible contact. Together, Irene and I got three contacts, 2 of whom could testify to the girl being much older than 7 and 1 of whom was not a member of the juvenile’s family.  Further, our group discovered that my file and another file had the finger prints of victim’s that were far larger than normal 4 or 7 year old girls.  While none of this proved that the act was consensual, it at least proved that it was more likely and POSSIBLE it was consensual.

Having finished the briefs, it feels good to know that because of our Ugandan Family, our lawyers, and the Global Justice Program, these kids would have the best cases presented for them – cases not subjected to the representation of “state briefs” (private practice lawyers paid by the government, who are notorious for reviewing the case file the morning of the trial and not meeting their client until they are in the courtroom).  Not only do we have an attorney lined up to try their cases, but we prepared the briefs for the judge, the DPP, and the Defense.  Further, in a system where some juveniles await nearly 2 years for trial (though The Children’s Act states that juveniles accused of capital offenses may only be detained for 6 months maximum), we have helped these kids receive their hearing dates sooner than they otherwise would have been heard.

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