The Legal Framework
Haiti's legal system reflected its colonial origins. It
French structure superimposed on a traditional
society. Although Haiti was founded by former slaves, it
the parallel or indigenous legal system often found in
Africa. The legal framework followed the structures and
procedures of French and Roman legal systems. It included
courts, justice of the peace courts, courts of first
courts of appeal, and the Court of Cassation (Supreme
the system had little relevance for most of the
more senior members of the court system catered to a small
urbanized business clientele. The lower echelons of the
system employed poorly trained individuals who were likely
influenced by political and financial pressures at the
Because Haiti was a rural nation, land law and local
and criminal procedures were of much greater relevance to
majority of the population than were decisions posted by
senior courts in Port-au-Prince and a few larger towns.
was the official language of the legal system, however,
though most people living in rural areas spoke only Creole
(see French and Creole
, ch. 7).
Judges in Haiti were often subject to intimidation, and
entire legal system suffered from a lack of administrative
financial capabilities. Many local courthouses were
during or after the 1986 collapse of the Duvalier regime.
facilities have been rebuilt.
The Duvalier regimes had selected most of the country's
judges. Post-Duvalier governments faced the daunting task
selecting credible judges to preside over courts at all
This process had barely begun as of 1989.
Except for brief periods in Haiti's history, military
officials controlled the country's legal system
(see Army Politics: Force and Counterforce
, ch. 9). As a
equitable and functioning judicial system was still
abstraction for most Haitians. The army or paramilitary
with political or personal motivations, arbitrarily
Problems in the country's legal system originated in
skewed experience with its constitutions. One of the first
of Haiti's early leaders was to establish law and order
organizing a new government. The solution adopted by
as François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques
Dessalines, Henri (Henry) Christophe, and many of their
successors emphasized executive authority along with
civil or technical administration. A judicial system and
municipal powers became extensions of central authority.
arrangement ensured military presence at all levels and
of government. Incompetence, graft, and violence
structure. One observer, writing at the turn of the
noted that "Haiti is governed by generals in all sizes."
In 1936, two years after the departure of the United
Marines, Haitian president Sténio Vincent drew up a new
constitution that provided a legislature and a judiciary
dependent upon the whims of the executive branch
(see Politics and the Military, 1934-57
, ch. 6). The new constitution
that "the government makes the constitution, the laws, the
regulations and agreements."
Haitian law required that detainees appear before a
within forty-eight hours, except when they were arrested
act of committing a crime or when they were detained
a judicial warrant. In practice, however, prisoners
spent long periods in jail while they awaited trial. The
of a bail system also led to lengthy pretrial detentions.
further required officials formally to file charges
accused at least two weeks before trial. The accused had
right to meet with an attorney before trial, but had to
it. The state provided no free counsel to the indigent.
Arraignments and trials took place in public, and
had the right to be present at their trials. Overall, the
criminal justice system suffered from backlogs, the
and influencing of jurists, and the population's
reluctance to serve as jurors.
Data as of December 1989