A Dominican judge ruled Monday that an American surf instructor and part-time model can be detained for a year without bail while prosecutors prepare a drug trafficking case against him.
Police say they arrested Rick Spelman of Thousand Oaks, California, on suspicion of drug trafficking on Oct. 18 when they found him with a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of genetically engineered marijuana while he was taking a bus to Cabarete, a tourist town where he has been giving surf lessons for several years between modeling jobs.
On Monday, Judge Jose Alejandro Vargas ruled that Spelman was a flight risk and can be detained for 12 months in a Dominican jail. The 31-year-old suspect is being held at a lockup where roughly 5,500 men are held in a facility built for 1,200 inmates.
No charges have been filed in the case, but the Dominican legal system allows for preventive detention while a case is under investigation. Human rights groups have long said the provision is abused and thousands of people are held without charge for extended periods.
In his first appearance before a judge last week, Spelman said the marijuana was soley for his own consumption.
Defense lawyer Manuela Ramirez said Spelman's legal team intends to argue that cultural criteria must be taken into account since California voters legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996. They intend to argue that the California native had no idea that marijuana was illegal in the Dominican Republic, Ramirez said.
Ramirez also said they will try to get the judge's order overruled so Spelman can be granted bail or at least transferred to a less crowded jail.
But National Drug Control Agency spokesman Roberto Lebron said the transgenic marijuana that Spelman was allegedly caught with has never been seen by anti-drug agents on the island before.
Lebron alleged that Spelman smuggled the marijuana from the U.S. mainland to sell it to tourists who flock to Cabarete's surfing beaches.
Dominican authorities are investigating if Spelman might be linked to a drug smuggling network. If convicted of drug trafficking, he faces up to 30 years in a Dominican prison.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo said staff are in contact with Spelman's relatives but would not provide further details.
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Source: Mercury News