Four sentenced for terms between 17 and 11 years for trafficking marijuana
The quartet recently convicted for trafficking over 2000 pounds of cannabis were all sentenced to spend time in jail on Wednesday, with 17 years being the longest sentence.
Defence attorney Grant Connell mitigated before Justice Brian Cottle at the High Court on April 17, pressing for a suspended jail sentence for his clients Danile Baptiste, Denzil Sam, Ezekiel Robin and Calvert Prince.
The counsel gave a 40-minute speech, which highlighted the different light under which marijuana is now being seen, with the introduction of the medicinal marijuana industry.
However, all things considered, the four men were luckier than they could have been.
Cottle indicated that had he followed the sentencing guidelines which have been drafted for this offence, he would have started at a sentence of 20 years in prison for one of the drug trafficking offences.
These guidelines will soon be implemented but they are currently not in force. Therefore, the judge was instead guided by a Court of Appeal case which suggested a 12-year incarceration starting point for such a quantity of the class B drug.
After a full trial, prosecuted by crown counsel Tammika McKenzie and Renée Simmons, the four men were convicted on four counts last week.
These were that they did, on February 20, 2014, have in their possession 907,546 g and 3,632 g of cannabis with the intent to supply, which amounts to 2007 pounds. They were also indicted and convicted for trafficking these amounts of the drug.
The prosecution succeeded in establishing that on that date, the prisoners were intercepted in a joint operation between the Coast Guard and the Narcotics Division 13 nautical miles off the North West Coast, as they were fleeing in a blue and purple go fast vessel. While fleeing, they threw all the bales of cannabis overboard, which were later picked up floating on the sea by the coastguard.
The go fast vessel was brought to a halt after a single gunshot to the engine, and the boat taken back to the coastguard base. A search later revealed a satellite phone and more cannabis in a green plastic bag, and they were charged for this amount separately.
On Wednesday, Connell first addressed the street value for the drug, disputing Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Scott’s final calculation of 3 to 5.4 million dollars.
However, before he could move on, the judge directed the counsel’s attention to the fact that the police officer had listed the value per pound as EC$500, and that would make the value $1 million, and so the officer had been mistaken.
Connell still countered that the value should be EC$200 to EC$250 per pound instead of $500, leaving the drug captured at a value between $400,000 and $600,000. He submitted an affidavit by Junior “Spirit” Cottle, president of the Cannabis Revival Committee in making this point. He asked the judge to use this estimation instead.
The lawyer then spoke about the law being at a “crossroads,” and he posited that there has been a paradigm shift in Parliament’s intention towards the drug in recent years, resulting in legislation on medicinal marijuana.
“Therefore, the possessors of this cannabis cannot be viewed as hardened criminals. My Lord, in fact, the society from which they came is now an appropriate place for them,” he stated.
He said that it is farmers like the quartet who were keeping the Marijuana industry alive, and “I humbly submit it would be harsh and unconscionable to put them behind walls, to prevent them from being part of that industry.”
“How would you rehabilitate four people who were in possession of cannabis, behind those walls? The rehabilitation process takes place outside, where the wisdom of leaders have created an avenue now for men like this,” he commented, noting that by April 29, they would be able to apply for a traditional farmer’s license and be on the straight and narrow.
He believed there to be no aggravating factors.
The judge noted that the maximum penalty for drug trafficking is life imprisonment.
Cottle believed there to be aggravating features, including the quantity of the drug which is “substantial by any measure”, that the value exceeded one million dollars, the fact that they tried to outrun the coastguard who were forced to shoot at them, and that they tried to dispose of the drugs overboard. For the presence of these factors, he added another two years to their sentences.
He considered the offenders in turn. Baptiste, 39 years, had been twice incarcerated, for two years and four years in Martinique on drug possession charges.
“He really has no intention from desisting from his chosen career,” Cottle concluded, saying that he gave greater weight to deterring him from his activities before adding another three years to his sentences.
For Robin, 38 years, who boasted a clean criminal record, he decreased the sentences by three years, and for Prince, 51 years, whose record was not as bad as some of the others, his sentences were increased by a single year.
Sam, although the youngest, had 16 previous convictions, three of them cannabis related. However, he had never been incarcerated for a drug related offence. For this reason, the youngest’s sentences were raised by two years.
For the third count of trafficking 907,546g, Baptiste received 17 years, Robin, 11, Prince, 15 and Sam 16.
On the count of trafficking, 3,632g, the four received 13, 7, 11 and 12 years respectively. For the possession of the 907,546g with intent to supply, sentences of 13, 7, 11 and 12 years respectively were given, and for possession of 3,632g with intent to supply, they were sentenced to 11, 5, 9 and 10 years respectively. All will run concurrently.
The only one who had spent significant time on remand was Prince, who has already spent three years, ten months and six days in jail.
The court decided that the go-fast vessel would be forfeited as no one has made an effort to claim it in the years it has been in custody.