Duck-Stealing Trial Ruffling Legal Feathers

The Jakarta Globe

Bekasi. Waiting anxiously for a court hearing on Wednesday, Irpan Fakhruroji and Iyan Sanjaya could barely answer when asked why they were facing a charge that could see them spend up to seven years in jail.

Prosecutors accuse Iyan of stealing a duck to sell it off for gas money. Police named Irpan an accomplice.

The boys, both 18 years old, have been charged with violating Criminal Code Article 363 on petty theft, which carries a maximum of seven years.

Small and seemingly frivolous cases like these have been flooding court dockets in recent years, prompting mixed reactions from legal experts.

Some say these petty cases are not worth judges’ time or effort, and are best settled out of court. Others say handling such cases — no matter how lowly — is necessary to the efficient functioning of the legal system.

In a hearing last week, Irpan angrily demanded that judges release him immediately not only because he was innocent, but because he had finals exams.

But on Wednesday, the defendants found they had to stew in distress for a while longer.

After a three-hour wait in the courtroom, the Bekasi District Court was forced to adjourn since Irpan and Iyan’s court-appointed lawyers failed to show up.

Roland, a prosecutor, barred the teenagers from speaking to anyone outside the courtroom, for fear that sympathetic people might help them escape.

“Nobody has bothered to show up. So I am responsible for them,” Roland said on Wednesday. “I just do not want to be blamed for anything should these two try to escape from here.”

However, Andi Hamzah, a law professor from Trisakti University, said the prosecutor’s office should not have brought such a case to trial.

“For cases with such small value, the prosecutors can easily dismiss the case by simply demanding, for example, compensation from the defendant’s family, [in behalf of] the victim,” he said.

“Most of the prosecutors here do not understand the system,” Andi said. “In Holland, for instance, 60 percent of cases can be handled out of court.”

Martua Batubara, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said they recently formed a forum for courts, prosecutors’ offices and the police to consult on how best to handle such cases.

“The forum aims for justice restoration including finding alternatives for such crimes,” he said. “The forum also accommodates ideas on whether the Criminal Code should be revised and includes clauses on light crimes, including methods of punishment such as social work.”

But Mohammad Irvan Olii, a criminologist, said such decisions were not so simple to make.

“Some victims believe that pursuing the case legally is the easiest way to satisfy their sense of justice,” Irvan said.

Besides the victims, he said, people also needed to consider the police officers, who are racing to meet quotas on crimes solved.

“The police have a professional target that they need to meet. Therefore processing such small cases is easier, and ends quicker,” Irvan said.

Bambang Widodo Umar, a lecturer on police education, suggested that such cases should be dealt under hukum adat , or traditional laws practiced in some provinces to resolve disputes.

He cited the Bali’s Pecalang, or village police officers, who resolve petty crimes aside from providing security.

“If there is a problem and we are contacted, we will try our best to resolve the issue without bringing it to the police,” said I Ketut Bagia, a chief of the Pecalang in Ubud, a town in central Bali.

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