A 21-year-old man who was, on Tuesday, given a birthday present of not being sentenced on that day for drug possession, was on Wednesday ordered to pay the court EC$53,300 in fines to avoid jail time
Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne handed down fines totalling that amount on Jomodean Alexander, of Dorsetshire Hill, one day after telling him that while she believes that his youth and naivety were abused, the court must send a strong message about cocaine possession.
Alexander was among three men at an apartment in Dorsetshire Hill on Sept. 23 where the drugs were found.
Last Friday, Lonnie Wilson, a 47-year-old waiter, of Canada, pleaded guilty to possession of 2,020 grammes of cocaine and was fined EC$30,000 or one year imprisonment.
iWitness News understands that he paid the fine.
The drug was found in a false compartment in Wilson’s suitcase.
The prosecution withdrew the charges against Glenlyn Lee, 37, a mason of Walvarooo, who was not at the apartment but was later arrested in connection with the drug.
On Tuesday, at the Serious Offences Court, in Kingstown, Alexander pleaded guilty to possession of 2,364 grammes of cocaine found in two packages in a black Xbox console, another package of 38 grammes of the drug, and 732 grammes of marijuana.
In mitigation, defence counsel Grant Connell asked the court to impose a fine that Alexander has the means to pay.
He said that Alexander smokes marijuana and had the drug for his personal use over time.
The lawyer said that the marijuana was found in Alexander’s bedroom and he was “not in contumelious disregard for the law.
“He doesn’t live with his grandmother, he was not behind his grandmother’s house but it’s not in the face of the police,” Connell said.
The lawyer’s comments echoed an oft-repeated statement by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who has said that police take a soft line on the possession of small quantities of marijuana in those circumstances.
The government is yet to operationalise a law passed in December 2018, which would make possession of up to 56 grammes of marijuana a non-arrestable offence for which one also cannot get a criminal record.
Connell said the value of the marijuana, based on an affidavit he had submitted to the court, was between EC$300 and EC$350.
Meanwhile, in his submissions on sentencing, Senior Prosecutor Adolphus Delplesche said that Alexander had found himself caught “with this wretched substance called cocaine”.
“Happy birthday to you,” Delplesche said on realising that the man was before the court on his birthday.
“I don’t know if it will be a happy one but I am wishing it is,” he said.
Delplesche, redirecting his submission to the court, said:
“What do we do with such a person? Do we throw him in the Prisons and give him an opportunity there to further develop his criminal skills or do we try to give him an opportunity to rehabilitate himself? That is the question the court must answer.”
The senior prosecutor said that the court must find a sentence that is a form of deterrence and also rehabilitation.
The prosecutor said that the court also has the option of fining Alexander, but he also asked whether the defendant has the means, at age 21, to pay a fine.
“Prosecutorially, your honour, I would not recommend a custodial sentence,” Delplesche said, but noted that is still an option before the court.
He said that, as a prosecutor, he would give the young man “an opportunity to organise his life”.
“But his youthfulness must not overshadow the seriousness of cocaine possession,” the prosecutor said, adding that if a fine is imposed, Alexander must “feel it somewhere that all is not well — albeit he being a young man, with this wretched behaviour”.
The prosecutor suggested a fine of between EC$15,000 to EC$20,000.
The chief magistrate said that in arriving at a sentence she would consider the fact that Alexander was just 21 years of and the vulnerability of youth.
Browne said she wanted to properly consider his sentence but time did not permit her, on Tuesday, to do so she adjourned the sentencing to the following day.
On Wednesday, Alexander was also arraigned on an unrelated charge that he drove a vehicle recklessly in Richmond Hill on May 12, 2019.
He pleaded not guilty to that charges and his trial was adjourned to Jan. 8, 2020.
In handing down her sentences, the chief magistrate said that she placed the possession of 2,364 grammes of cocaine in category 3 level of seriousness – the highest being category 1 – because of the lesser role that the youth had played.
Browne said the court felt that Alexander had gotten involved because of his youth and naivety and had little knowledge of the scale of the operation in which he was involved.
The possession of 38 grammes of cocaine was placed at a category 4 level of seriousness, also because of the lesser role that Alexander had played.
The chief magistrate said that in arriving at the sentences, she had considered the fact that Alexander has no previous convictions.
But she said there was great sophistication in concealing the cocaine in the Xbox console.
The court granted the man the full one-third discount on his sentence although he did not plead guilty at the first opportunity.
“This is an extremely serious offence,” the chief magistrate said, adding that one estimate puts the value of the 83 ounces of cocaine at EC$75,042.
She added that that was not the highest value.
With the one-third discount, the fine was reduced by EC$25,014 and the chief magistrate rounded off the EC$50,028 fine to EC$50,000.
“You will have to find some money today,” Browne told Alexander.
She fined him EC$3,300 forthwith for possession of the 38 grammes of cocaine or six months in prison.
For possession of 732 grammes of marijuana, Alexander was ordered to pay the court EC$1,000 forthwith or spend four months in jail.
After hearing the sentences, Alexander’s lawyer rose and asked the court if the mitigating features were not considered in arriving at the sentence.
The chief magistrate told Connell she had considered them and that was why she had given the full one-third discount on his sentence.
“But I really want him to understand that this is a serious offence and the sentence must reflect that. I am giving him an opportunity by the non-custodial sentence but he must understand the gravity of the situation. And I don’t want him to be easily lured, or caught in similar circumstances,” she said.
Connell asked the court whether it would accept a payment of EC$1,000 on the $50,000, noting that Alexander still had to come up with EC$3,300 to avoid immediate jail time.
“I gave him yesterday as a birthday gift…” the chief magistrate said and told the lawyer to consult with his client about how much of the EC$50,000 fine he would be able to pay that day.
After standing the matter down for a while, Alexander was ordered to pay the court EC$10,000 by Monday and the remainder by the end of April 2020.