Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dominican Republic: Canadian Groom, Cousin Jailed After Wedding in Punta Cana

Nick Miele, 34, and his cousin, Ben Constantini, 18, both from Stoney Creek, Ontario, have been in jail since the early morning hours of May 28, just hours after Miele and Stacey Vernon, 31, exchanged marriage vows at the Bahia Principe Esmeralda resort in Punta Cana. 

Ms. Vernon has told CBC News that Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) has been of little help to her husband and his cousin.
Miele is facing months in jail after a fight erupted on his wedding night that his bride says he had no part in.  The altercation began in the 24-hour buffet line around 0230 hours after the reception had formally ended. Vernon was in line with one of her friends when two men not in the wedding party got into a fight and ended up hitting Vernon, who was subsequently rushed to safety by her husband.

According to Vernon, the wedding party gave statements to police with the end result being that Miele and Constantini were arrested.

COMMENT: The two Canadians had a preliminary trial on May 30 at which point they were both sentenced to 90 days in jail pending completion of the police investigation.

“Our embassy and our government has been little to no help,” Vernon said. The Canadian Embassy gave them a list of private lawyers in the area they might contact, but added that the “list is provided for convenience and information purposes only” and that they accept “no responsibility for results.”

A representative from DFAIT told Vernon that the agency would help ensure that her husband and his cousin get a fair trial. No one from DFAIT showed up at their hearing on May 30, according to Vernon.

In the interest of transparency, many foreign travelers who go abroad fail to realize that when they leave their homeland they have only the rights accorded to them by a foreign government, in this case, the Dominican Republic, which hardly has a stellar criminal justice system.

Having given countless briefings to foreign travelers over the years, I have always emphasized that the appropriate foreign affairs agencies of travelers abroad can do little more than communicate the arrest of a foreign traveler to their families at home, provide them a list of attorneys and represent their interests if they are mistreated while in police custody.

Foreign embassies and foreign affairs agencies cannot: (1) arrange for the release of detained foreigners; (2) post bond, if it is even available; (3) arrange for better treatment while in detention; and (4) attend all hearings conducted for detained foreigners, considering that many embassies are not staffed to fulfill such a role.

All foreign travelers have the responsibility to avoid getting into trouble and avoiding police contact at all costs. Not doing so increases the risk of arrest, detention, costly attorneys, etc. Clearly, being a foreigner does not accord any detainee special privileges or exceptions.

The one role most foreign embassies can fulfill is to notify the families of detained foreigners back home, so that they can assist in retaining local counsel and help financially.

Punta Cana is part of the Punta Cana-Bávaro-Veron-Macao municipal district in La Altagracia, the easternmost province of the Dominican Republic. The area is best known for its beaches, which face both the Caribbean and Atlantic. It has been a popular tourist destination since the 1970s.