A Layou woman who breached her COVID-19 quarantine for 11 of the prescribed 14 days was given a suspended prison term, on Friday, when she became the first person to be charged under the revised Public Health Act.
Tedicia Williams, a 27-year-old, unemployed Layou resident must not commit a criminal offence for the next year, if she is to avoid serving her three-month jail term.
She faced a fine of EC$2,000 and six months in jail, with the magistrate noting that while the media had reported it was a fine or imprisonment, Parliament had in fact prescribed a fine and jail term.
Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett handed down the sentence at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court during a sitting in which a 78-year-old man was ordered to pay a fine of EC$500 forthwith for breaching his quarantine for about an hour.
Williams was sentenced two days after pleading guilty to a charge that on Sept. 19, at Layou, she contravened an order made by Dr. Roger Duncan, health officer, under section 27(a) of the Public Health Act, requiring her to quarantine herself from other persons.
Asked on Friday if she maintained her guilty plea, Williams said she was “guilty with an explanation”.
The facts of the case, as read by prosecutor Police Constable Corlene Samuel, are that that Williams arrived in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept 19 aboard a One Caribbean airlines flight from Tortola.
On arrival, health officials informed her that she is required to quarantine herself for 14 days, five of which must be spent in a government-approved hotel.
Williams listed her intended accommodation as Spring Garden Resort but never went to the hotel, which is located about three kilometres from Argyle International Airport.
As a result, the police were informed and went in search of Williams and found her at her home in Layou.
Williams was informed of the offence of breaching quarantine and was arrested.
When cautioned, she did not say anything.
She was later charged.
Defendant says she couldn’t afford hotel
Duncan told the court that when Williams arrived in the country, she was issued with a document detailing what was expected of her as it relates to her quarantine.
The health officer also said that Williams was issued with a document ordering her to quarantine for 14 days.
In her explanation, Williams told the court that she had told the health officials that she did not have any money to stay at a government facility.
She explained that she had told them that it was her family that had sent the money to her to return from the BVI.
The defendant told the court that she had also indicated that she had her own apartment.
“Then I get a ride and went home,” she said.
However, Duncan told the court that the protocol was “clear, unambiguous and say that if you are coming from a high-risk country, you have to spend 14 days in quarantine”.
He said the protocols say that that five of these days must be at a government-approved hotel.
The doctor said that in his experience at the airport, most people arrive with the intention to breach the COVID-19 protocols.
“… unless you insist and insist, people think they can get away with it,” the doctor said, adding that it is fine if someone chooses to endanger themselves and their family, but not the country at large.
“These are not risks that we want to take,” Duncan said.
He told the court that in instances where someone cannot afford to pay for their hotel stay part of their quarantine, the government will make and pay the arrangements.
Also the Immigration Department will confiscate the person’s passport until they refund the government for the hotel stay.
‘You have no excuse’
On hearing the doctor’s explanation, the senior magistrate said:
“Madam, it appears that you have no excuse for the position that was taken by you and as the doctor explained, it’s not just only you.
“I have heard your so-called explanation and I don’t think it amounts to a defence.”
In mitigation, Williams told the court that she is unemployed in SVG and had spent seven months in the British Virgin Islands, during which she did not work.
Asked the Ministry of Health’s view on the penalty prescribed by Parliament, Duncan said that the ministry has invested significant human and financial resources because of the potential impact of COVID-19.
He said that if health officials do everything they can and there is a breach like Williams’, it jeopardises everything that had been done.
The magistrate asked the doctor if he knew how courts across the region have been handling these matters.
Duncan said that in other jurisdictions, people are paying more for quarantine and even if a person has an apartment where they can stay, they have to pay for security.
The magistrate said he spoke to a colleague in Grenada to get a perspective on what is being done there.
Burnett further said that one of the things that the court has to bear in mind when sentencing a defendant is a means test.
He said if the court is going to impose a fine, it has to determine the means of the individual before imposing a fine.
He said he has done a means test and the defendant is in no position at all to pay a fine.
“So, a fine that’s out of the question.”
Burnett pointed out that the court couldn’t impose a fine with the intention that someone else would pay.
The senior magistrate noted that Williams had pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and, therefore, qualified for a one-third discount on her sentence.
“Are you sorry that this was done by you?” the senior magistrate asked the defendant, who responded in the affirmative.
The magistrate told Williams he was looking for something called remorse but was not so sure he was seeing that in her face.
He said there is a reason why parliament imposed fine and imprisonment for the offence.
“Parliament wants the court to treat with these matters in a particular way,” Burnett said.
‘Having said all this, I am of the view that a suspended sentence may send a particular message at this stage,” he further stated and imposed the suspended sentence.
The senior magistrate said the aggravating feature in this case, which was of a very high level, is that Williams put the country at risk by her behaviour.
“And that is most aggravating. It’s not only her family, she also put the country at risk,” he said, adding that there is a reason why COVID-19 is being managed in a particular way.
This is ridiculous it like picking a dead man pocket
Why can’t you go at a hotel of your choice
So from here on, once you can’t pay you should not be charged! Is this a superior level of magisterial intelligence?
What about the 2000 EC per day fine? Why did the government make a law they do not enforce? If a person is to pay a fine it is difficult to do that if they are in prison. Her sentence was suspended…that will scare everyone!. What about the quarantine building they have? Is it not being utilized?
A travesty of justice. If I broke the law, I would have to pay dearly. What about others who broke quarantine? She broke 11 of the 14 days, not one day! No fine at all! Many people that do not have the means still have to pay. Why is she let-off? Even if it takes 5 years to pay. So what if someone else has to pay? How many people do we see go before the court that are “dirt poor” and are told to pay thousands in fines? I usually like Mr Burnett but this decision sends a bad signal. It looks like favoritism.
The “protocols” of most countries are bad. In SVG they are even worse. Hotels in SVG are WAY OVER-PRICED. You have to be either really stupid or desperate to travel under such “protocols”.
Covid-19 is over-hyped. It has been found that the statistics have been doctored world-wide. How much longer will the misinformation last?
Jailing poor ppl for quarantine and then not even taking it serious
Vincentians are to lawless and dont like to follow rules. If she was honest from upfront things might of work in her favor.
I agree Behanka. Too much dishonesty in SVG, especially from the political leaders!!!. The Quarantine Law of the government was not thought-out, like most of the ULP laws and initiatives. This is because only ONE MAN decides everything without allowing input from others. I wonder if anyone who makes alternate suggestions are seen as traitors to the “family”. They were supposed to have a quarantine house. What happened to that? …
It looks like our ONE MAN government decided more money changes hands when forcing people to pay hotel costs!
What the hell is going on here? You can be jailed for going to your home, instead of going to a hotel where you have to pay to stay. They found her at her home and not at a party spreading the virus or non-virus. Rickie you are part of a Ponzi scheme to take the democratic rights from Vincentians. Who the hell do you, Ralph and the other jokers think you are?
See how she ah laugh, she musah ULP dread!
Dis yah is one idiot gal! She nah care bout odder people. Dem cood dead karze ah she, but wah, de idiot gal nah care dread! Too stupid to care! Yo nah see.
Dis yah gal is jus one stupid idiot gal! Poor she. Baarn idiot.
Jail Ralph. He and the ULP has done more damage to SVG than Covid-19.
Jamal, if she couldn’t buy her own tucker, how could she pay for hotel and, the magistrate has her own discretion. Everything is political
That should be “her own ticket “
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