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Nine years for marijuana possession for Trinidadian trio

Nine years for marijuana  possession for Trinidadian trio


Despite agreeing with attorney Grant Connell that problems associated with marijuana will be around for a long time, High Court Judge Frederick Bruce-Lyle asserted that there are laws against the illegal drug.{{more}}

The judge’s comments were made at the High Court just before he sentenced Trinidadians, Jovel Espinoza, 22, Terry Bannister, 29, and Desmond Fabie, 42, to nine years imprisonment each on counts of possession of 472 pounds of marijuana (214, 288) grams and another nine years for attempting to export the drug.

The sentences will run concurrently.

The matter was sent to the High Court for sentencing after Chief Magistrate Sonya Young considered that her powers of sentencing were insufficient.

The magistrate can only sentence up to seven years and fine up to $500,000, while the High Court can sentence up to 25 years and fine up to $5,000,000 in these matters.

The facts read out in court stated that on May 24, 2011, at Ottley Hall, Coastguard officials were on patrol in Vincentian waters when they spotted a pirogue called “Salima”. The officers observed that there were three persons on board, and as they got close to the vessel, with the use of a loud hailer, they announced that they were police and that the vessel should stop.

However, the vessel did not stop and began speeding away. A warning shot was fired, but the vessel did not stop. Instructions were then given to shoot at the men’s engines. The shots disabled the engines and the boat came to a stop.

The facts further revealed that Espinoza and Bannister began throwing packages overboard. Eleven sacks containing 37 packages of marijuana were retrieved from the water.

The men were then taken into custody and questioned. Bannister told police that he was only “trying to make a small hustle”, while Espinoza and Fabie claimed they only came “to do a job”.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Colin Williams mentioned of a similar matter involving a Vincentian man named Jamal Grant.

The DPP disclosed that Grant was also met at sea, but with only 37 pounds of marijuana.

“He pleaded guilty to the charge and originally had to pay $17,000, with $3000 forthwith, and he remainder over a period of time…,” he said.

Williams said the crown appealed the matter, and when it went before the Court of Appeal, they thought that the quantity of 37 pounds ought to have been punished by imprisonment for three years and a fine.

“So he was fined and confined,” Williams said.

Williams said there were aggravating factors in the case of the Trinidadians, relating to how they were apprehended.

Mitigating on his clients behalf, Connell contended that his clients are remorseful, and none of them has previous convictions in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Connell stressed that the case of Jamal Grant which was submitted by the DPP seems to have had tremendous effect on the Serious Offences Court.

In July 2010, Connell noted that there was a matter before the Magistrate’s Court involving two Trinidadians charged with possession of 762 pounds of marijuana.

Connell noted that the men were fined $250,000 and had their boat forfeited.

“I humbly submit that they are not Vincentians. When we put them in our prisons to rehabilitate, they are not coming back into our society. They are Trinidad’s problem. Those issues should trigger the reason why a significant fine should be imposed on these men…,” Connell said.

Connell said if they serve a sentence, they will still be sent to Trinidad, but noted that in the interim, the state will incur at cost of $42,000 every year to maintain them.

“If the magistrate suggests that her powers of sentencing are not sufficient, let us take one year over the magistrate’s maximum sentence and put it to eight years… We can impose a fine and deport them. The jails are full and the cupboards are empty…,” Connell argued.

“…The issue of marijuana is one that is going to be around for a very long time, and we seem not to want to address it…,” Connell continued.

The lawyer also made reference to the case which involved former Vincentian Liat pilot, Keith Allen, who was nabbed in Barbados with marijuana.

“Our very own carried marijuana through the front door of Barbados and he was fined. His money stayed in Barbados… That is importing a drug into a country that has none, and they (Trinidadians) are carrying a drug away from a country that is plentiful,” Connell said.

Connell said in years to come, when persons have gone to the great beyond, “marijuana will still be here. No matter what they do, they can’t stop the factory of nature.”

Responding to Connell, Justice Bruce-Lyle asked Connell if he was the Minister of Finance to know that cupboards are empty.

“There is a view by many. I am not saying I am of that view, but there is a view that marijuana will become SVG’s biggest export,” Bruce-Lyle added.

The judge made it clear that there are still laws against possession, exporting and cultivating.

Bruce-Lyle said despite the fact that two of the men hold criminal records in Trinidad, he treated them as first time offenders in SVG.

“Parliament has taken a view that this thing is creating havoc in society, and that is why the magistrate decided that she does not have enough power to deal with this case involving this amount of marijuana,” the judge said.

Bruce-Lyle said the case is one that warrants a message being sent.

“… I am going to send out that message loud and clear… The most appropriate sentence I see is nine years on each count. The vessel is also forfeited,” Bruce-Lyle ruled.