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DRUGS PILE-UP

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WANTED: One local drugs testing facility.

That was the call from Acting Chief Magistrate Sharda Sinanan Bollers after she heard that a Jamaican accused of possession of cocaine had been languishing in jail since January because the test results of the evidence had not been received from the Forensic Sciences Centre in Barbados – something the centre has categorically denied as being their fault.{{more}}

Bertram Stapleton, attorney for the accused, Egbert Lewis, was not amused and complained that each time he returned to court the prosecution sought an adjournment because of a lack of results from Barbados. He called for the case to be dismissed which the acting Chief Magistrate did not do but gave a final adjournment to October 10 (see story on page 6).

Police in St Vincent told SEARCHLIGHT that it could take up to six months for results to be received from Barbados.

Prosecutor, Station Sargeant Nigel Butcher, said that the police would accumulate the evidence and send them in batches periodically to Barbados for analysis. He said there was no specified timeframe for the results to be returned and this caused a delay in the prosecution’s case.

He supported the establishment of a testing facility and so too did defence attorney Grant Connell who knew too well how long his clients remained in jail while the evidence was being analysed.

He called on the Ralph Gonsalves Administration to budget for a testing facility as a matter of priority.

He said that one had to wonder why Barbados is so close to St Vincent, geographically, but so far ahead economically.

“Why should we be putting money in their pocket if we need a simple problem rectified?” he asked.

“This just goes to show we are operating on a backward system … 99 per cent of the time if it looks like marijuana, smells like marijuana, it is highly unlikely that the tests would return as cabbage bush.”

Director of the Forensic Sciences Centre, Cheryl Corbin, said that if the Vincentians were citing the high volume of drug cases as the rationale for establishing their own drug testing facility then she could see eye-to-eye with them but if they were using perceived delays at her end as a reason then she could not support the call.

Corbin said that Barbados had a four-week turn around period on average and in the case of Egbert Lewis those results were ready and waiting for collection.

“The office of the Commissioner of Police in St Vincent was contacted and he was informed that the case of Egbert Lewis was submitted to the Forensic Sciences Centre, in Barbados on July 28, 2006 and the case is already completed. This office is awaiting payment for the analyses which must be submitted before the reports/certificates are issued,” she told SEARCHLIGHT.

An officer in Barbados familiar with the operations of the centre said that by accumulating and sending evidence in batches to Barbados, St Vincent was creating its own problems. On some occasions, the officer said, 10 cases would arrive which Corbin and her team of forensic scientists could process fairly quickly and return but there were other times when 40, 50, 60 cases would arrive. These would take longer especially since the centre handles the forensics for 11 other Caribbean countries from Bermuda in the north to Belize in Central America and Guyana in South America.

Asked about this, Corbin declined to go into further details but said that one thing all Courts in client states should be mindful of is the need for communication between the defence, prosecution, and the presiding Magistrate or Judge.

“If St Vincent will send a batch of, say, 30 cases to be analysed, then the prosecutor should be aware of the turn around time and seek an appropriate adjournment to facilitate the receipt of results. The centre cannot take responsibility for the time between notification of the readiness of the certificate and collection of the result,” Corbin said.

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