Magistrate agonizes over appropriate punishment for repeat offender
A man has been caught twice in one week possessing or offering for sale textbooks from the Girls’ High School (GHS) book loan scheme which are reasonably suspected of being stolen.
Dwight John is a known character to the court, and therefore has appeared before Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court previously.
On Monday, September 21, he was brought to magistrate’s court once more, charged with having four secondary school textbooks in his possession, which were reasonably suspected of being stolen or unlawfully obtained.
Among these books in court were Principles of Business, Physics and Biology text books.
The court heard that he, on September 18, at around 12:05 pm, was spotted by police officers who were walking along Bay street in Kingstown. The officer was very familiar with John, and observed that he was attempting to sell books to persons on the street. The officer found this to be suspicious and questioned him. On further inspection of the books, the constable noticed that the stamp of the Girls’ High School book loan scheme was on them.
John did not make a comment when informed of the offence, and he didn’t give a statement to the police when cautioned. However, he told them “Officer ah down Salvation Army me pick them up.”
The point was made that the police should have checked with the Salvation Army and the school.
The defendant launched into an explanation but did not speak audibly.
“That’s what he was going to do, sell them to get some cocaine,” the magistrate said, in response to something John said when he was commenting on why he was selling the books.
John had informed the court that he currently lives anywhere, and no longer lives in Calder.
“Dwight you’re better off staying in Calder you know? You understand me? Because it seems as though when you come to Kingstown you get yourself in trouble,” Burnett stated, noting that he had previously sentenced him to six months in prison for going into somebody’s vehicle in Kingstown.
“Didn’t even ask for your record, notice that? I didn’t ask the police for your record…goes from way back when,” Burnett said. The date of John’s first conviction is 1988.
Later on, the magistrate considered, “There’s nothing we could do to save him from himself. I don’t know. He goes to prison, he comes back out, and by the time he’s out he’s back doing the same thing.”
The defendant seemed to be saying something, but the judicial officer told him not to promise him anything because it wouldn’t happen. “He’s not working, and he has to steal to survive, that’s what he’s doing. Nobody’s going to employ him,” Burnett contemplated.
John interjected that he works at the market, carrying load.
Senior Prosecutor Adolphus Deplesche said that it was very difficult. “What do we do with such a character? What does the system have in place for him?,” he said, suggesting a bond in the end.
“I read an article quoting someone who was basically saying that the court is sending persons to prison who should not really be sent,” the magistrate stated, continuing, “What do we do with them when there’s nothing else for us to do?”
“Sometimes our hands are basically tied. The person has no means to pay any fine, bond is out of the question, what do you do with them?”
Community service has been tried before in the court, but the police who have to oversee this process seem reluctant to do so, the magistrate noted.
He decided, “I am going to put Dwight on a bond and he is going to go out of this court and if we are to monitor him for the whole day, he will still do something.”
Dwight was bonded for a year in the sum of $1000, to be paid forthwith or a three month prison sentence would activate.
“Even with this sentence of the court, it amounts to sending Dwight to prison,” the magistrate said.
Rather than a year, it took just one day for the police to arrest John again for the crime of unlawful possession of six secondary school text books. This time he was found in Paul’s Avenue.
The bond was activated and failure to pay $1000 would result in a three month period of incarceration. Additionally a three-month prison sentence for the second offence was imposed, to run consecutively.