Browne v. People – Case Brief Summary (Virgin Islands)

In Browne v. People, 50 V.I. 241 (V.I. 2008), cert. denied, No. 08-4186 (3d Cir. Oct. 29, 2008), the Court ultimately held that "section 3 of the ROA governs the issue of pretrial detention for first degree murder defendants in local Virgin Islands courts, and that title 5, section 3504a is inapplicable to the extent that it purports to grant pretrial bail for defendants charged with first degree murder in the Superior Court under Virgin Islands law where the proof is evident or the presumption great." 50 V.I. at 258.

Accordingly, contrary to the trial judge's second conclusion of law, we held that the Legislature lacked the authority to provide in the local detention statute for pretrial release of defendants charged with first degree murder where the proof is evident and the presumption great; and, contrary to the judge's fourth conclusion, we held that the local detention statute is inconsistent with section 3 of the ROA, at least as it relates to defendants charged with first degree murder where the proof is evident or the presumption great.

Additionally, counter to the trial judge's first conclusion of law, we held in Browne that "the BRA is not applicable to cases tried in the Superior Court except as provided for in Superior Court Rule 141" and that "the appropriate provisions of the BRA merely guide trial judges with respect to the release of defendants pending trial, but not with respect to the detention of such defendants." Id.

Finally, the Court also considered in Browne whether there is a right to bail in the Virgin Islands. Specifically, we stated:

"The United States Supreme Court has held that the excessive bail clause of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution does not guarantee a right to bail in all cases. See U.S. v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 752-54, 107 S. Ct. 2095, 2104-05, 95 L. Ed. 2d 697 (1987). However, by simultaneously enacting the Judiciary Act of 1789, which was the forerunner of the BRA, Congress granted the right to pretrial bail for defendants charged with noncapital federal crimes in federal courts. See Act of Sept. 24, 1789, ch. 20, § 29, 1 Stat. 88. Evidencing an intent to ensure that Virgin Islands defendants were also guaranteed an explicit right to bail, Congress, in addition to enacting the Eighth Amendment's excessive bail prohibition language in the ROA, enacted the bail provision in section 3 of the ROA ... ." (50 V.I. at 256.)