Authorities generally conducted arrests openly and, when required, obtained judicially issued warrants. Serious cases, including suspected narcotics or firearms offenses, do not require warrants where probable cause exists. The law provides that authorities must charge a suspect within 48 hours of arrest. Arrested persons must appear before a magistrate within 48 hours (or by the next business day for cases arising on weekends and holidays) to hear the charges against them, although some persons on remand claimed they were not brought before a magistrate within the 48-hour period. Police may apply for a 48-hour extension upon simple request to the court and for longer extensions with sufficient showing of need. The government generally respected the right to a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. The constitution provides the right for those arrested or detained to retain an attorney at their own expense; volunteer legal aides were sometimes available. Minors under age 18 are provided legal assistance only when they are charged under offenses before the Supreme Court; otherwise, there is no official representation of minors before the courts.
There is a functioning bail system, although arrestees often waited up to two years before receiving bail. Individuals who could not post bail were held on remand until they faced trial. Judges sometimes authorized cash bail for foreigners arrested on minor charges; however, foreign suspects generally preferred to plead guilty and pay a fine rather than pursue their right to defend themselves, in view of possible delays in court cases and harsh conditions in prison.
Pretrial Detention: Attorneys and other prisoner advocates continued to complain of excessive pretrial detention due to the failure of the criminal justice system to try even the most serious cases in a timely manner. The constitution provides that authorities may hold suspects in pretrial detention for a “reasonable period of time,” which was defined as two years. As of October 2015, 411 prisoners, including 27 non-Bahamian citizens, were awaiting trial. The government did not provide updated statistics in 2016. Authorities used an electronic ankle-bracelet surveillance system in which they released selected suspects awaiting trial with an ankle bracelet on the understanding that the person would adhere to strict and person-specific guidelines defining allowable movement within the country.
Authorities detained irregular immigrants, primarily Haitians, until arrangements could be made for them to leave the country or they obtained legal status. The average length of detention varied significantly by nationality, willingness of governments to accept their nationals back in a timely manner, and availability of funds to pay for repatriation. Authorities usually repatriated Haitians within one to two weeks. In a 2014 agreement between the governments of the Bahamas and Haiti, the government of Haiti agreed to accept the return of its nationals without undue delay, and both governments agreed that Haitian migrants found on vessels illegally in Bahamian territorial waters would be subject to immediate repatriation. In return the Bahamian government agreed to continue reviewing the status of Haitian nationals with no legal status and without criminal records who either had arrived in the Bahamas before January 1985 or had resided continuously in the Bahamas since that time. Authorities held irregular immigrants convicted of crimes other than immigration violations at the BDOC facility where, after serving their sentences, they often remained for weeks or months pending deportation.
The government continued to enforce the 2014 immigration policy that clarified requirements for non-Bahamian citizens to carry the passport of their nationality and proof of legal status in the country. Some international organizations alleged that enforcement focused primarily on individuals of Haitian origin, that rights of children were not respected, and that expedited deportations did not allow time for due process. There were also widespread, credible reports that immigration officials physically abused persons as they were being detained and that officials solicited and accepted bribes to avoid detention or secure release.
Activists for the Haitian community acknowledged that few formal complaints were filed with government authorities because of these allegations, which they attributed to a widespread perception of impunity for police and immigration authorities and fear of reprisal among minority communities. The government denied these allegations and publicly committed to carry out immigration operations with due respect for internationally accepted human rights standards, including the involvement of the Ministry of Social Services, where warranted, in cases involving children, scaled enforcement based on the ability to provide adequate housing for detainees, and full investigations of any allegations of abuse.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained, whether on criminal or other grounds, are entitled to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention, although this process sometimes took several years.