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Puerto Rico Voters Shoot Down Constitutional Amendments, Including Right to Deny Bail in Murder Cases

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Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Fortuño had to concede a loss on Sunday, after voters rejected proposed constitutional amendments to reduce the size of its legislature and give judges the right to deny bail in certain murder cases.

The voting results mean that Puerto Rico remains the only place in the Western Hemisphere where all people, including those charged with rape and murder, are always entitled to bail. The debate about the rights of crime suspects vs the rights of victims and their families has a long history on the island, which reported record numbers of homicides last year. In fact, Sunday’s voting split – with 45% in favor of the bail measure and 55% opposed – almost exactly replicates the results of a similar referendum in 1994.

Supporters of the bail measure argue that it will improve the ability to fight violent crime, which has been on the rise. In particular, crime victim advocates note that victims and their relatives are frequently hesitant to press charges or testify against a suspect, fearing run ins on the small island if the suspect is freed on bail. On the other hand, opponents of the measure point to the importance of preserving an individual’s right to freedom – particularly those of marginalized populations, who they argue would be disproportionately affected by the restriction of bail.

Puerto Ricans will head to the polls again on November 6 to vote on whether their current status as a self-governing US territory should remain.