Costa Rica appeal of Patton ‘not guilty’ verdict would have little to stand on, legal experts say

October 23, 2015
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Hours after a three-judge panel in Pérez Zeledón found U.S. expat Ann Patton not guilty on Monday of murdering her husband, the prosecutor said the government would appeal the verdict — for the second time. If the prosecutor’s appeal were to be successful it would lead to Patton’s fourth trial for the same crime.

“This isn’t over,” Prosecutor Edgar Ramírez told The Tico Times.

But some criminal lawyers doubt that Patton will face another trial in the 2010 shooting death of her late husband John Bender.

A 2014 ruling by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV, precludes another trial for Patton now that she has been found not guilty twice by different courts, according to criminal lawyer and University of Costa Rica law professor Javier Llobet. Costa Rica does not have a prohibition against double jeopardy, but Llobet said there are limits on the state’s ability to continue appealing a case.

A 2006 reform to the criminal code included an article prohibiting the Prosecutor’s Office from appealing a second acquittal. In 2010, a law was passed that struck that article from the criminal code. But in 2014, Sala IV ruled that the 2010 law was unconstitutional.

Sala IV then reconstituted the 2006 language limiting prosecutor appeals. Sala IV justices said there should be a “reasonable limit” on the state’s ability to continue pursuing appeals with which it does not agree. Without these limits, the justices wrote, defendants could not be guaranteed their right to a speedy trial and would be left in perpetual legal limbo that also could become disproportionately expensive.

“The state cannot act as a persecutor ad infinitum,” the justices wrote in their resolution.

Former prosecutor Steven Ferris — who is a Tico Times board member — said that Ramírez’s pledge to appeal the ruling in the Patton case before the full verdict had been released was a “bold” move. After three trials and two acquittals, Ferris said a fourth was not possible.

Ramírez said his office would review the full sentence — expected on Sept. 14 — before crafting the government’s appeal. He said the Prosecutor’s Office would not be satisfied “until justice is done for John Bender’s death.”

The initial verdict released Monday afternoon by the court in Pérez Zeledón found Patton not guilty of murder charges in the 2010 shooting death of her husband. Patton has always maintained her innocence and said that her husband, John Felix Bender, shot himself.

Patton told The Tico Times after her acquittal Monday that she hoped “the verdict will be strong enough so that an appeal cannot be written or won’t be accepted and that it can end now and John can finally rest.”

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