The Owia man charged with possession of 3,623 grammes of cocaine with intent to supply and possession of the drug for the purpose of drug trafficking was today (Thursday) fined EC$64,000 for his crimes.
Rodney Thomas, 33, paid the EC$10,000 that the Serious Offences Court ordered him to pay forthwith and, thereby, avoided a six-month jail term.
Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne fined him EC$30,000 for possession of the drug with intent to supply, and ordered him to pay the remaining EC$20,000 by May 2, or go to prison for 11 months.
She further ordered Thomas to pay by Aug. 31, a fine of EC$34,000 for possession of the drug for the purpose of drug trafficking. In default, Thomas goes to prison for one year.
The fines were handed down after Thomas, who initially pleaded not guilty on Monday, changed his pleas to guilty today.
According to the facts presented by prosecutor Station Sergeant Renrick Cato last Saturday, Jan. 22 about 5:30 a.m., acting on information, officers from the Narcotics and Rapid Response Units executed a search warrant, in respect of controlled drugs, at the defendant’s home.
When the police arrived, Thomas’ mother opened the door and the warrant was shown and read to her and she consented to the search.
The police searched Thomas’ mother’s bedroom and in her presence Police Constable 893 John found one Nike knapsack in a grey barrel.
Because of the weight of the knapsack, John became suspicious and summoned the defendant to the said bedroom.
John opened the knapsack in his presence and found two black plastic bags containing three black rectangular packages taped with transparent tape.
John cut open each package and found them to each contain a whitish substance resembling cocaine.
The officer immediately cautioned the defendant and he replied, “I take full responsibility for the bag and its contents.”
John pointed out the offence of possession of controlled drugs and informed him that she was arresting him. The defendant then narrated to the police how he came to be in possession of the cocaine.
Cato said that Thomas told the police that he had gone to De Volet.
(De Volet is an uninhabited area in the north of St. Vincent, known for marijuana cultivation and other illegal activities.)
At this point, Counsel Grant Connell, who along with Jeshua Bardoo, represented Thomas, rose and said, “I trust this is being documented.”
Connell said that the police had in their possession files that guide the prosecutor “that would be written word for word, quoting what the defendant said at the time of arrest.
“I would issue a caution to my friend to read what he sees. Because I, too, can get that document prior to my mitigation,” the lawyer said.
Cato said he could not read word-for-word what Thomas had said because names were mentioned.
“He is under caution,” the prosecutor said.
Connell said he had no objection to the prosecutor reading what was said in quotation marks.
Cato asked if counsel was trying to tell the prosecution how to present the facts.
The prosecutor then told the court that Thomas told police, under caution:
“On Wednesday, I went along with four other males on a boat to help with another boat that was having some problems at De Volet. We went down there about 2 o’clock to dig out sand out of the boat and try get it to start. But it couldn’t. Ah pulling it and it lean so the owner decided to call Coast Guard about 6 p.m.
“Coast Guard came and when we about to come back Owia, a man came from the shores of De Volet and gave me a bag to give to someone. So I said it’s OK and I collect the bag. I came back to Owia, the same four men and plenty people were there on the land so maybe someone saw me with the bag. I not sure.
“I had the bag in my room and I received a text from someone that police is in the area. And I took that bag and placed it in a grey barrel in my mother’s bedroom.”
Thomas was taken to the Narcotics Base where the substance was weighed in his presence and amounted to 3,623 grammes. He was interviewed electronically in the presence of Bardoo and was subsequently charged.
Cato told the court that Thomas had no previous convictions.
Act of kindness led to charge
In mitigation, Connell told the court that his client is unemployed, pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, and has no previous convictions.
He said Thomas was extremely remorseful for his action and co-operated with the police from the very beginning, admitting his guilt.
The lawyer said that according to his instructions, Thomas said he took control and accepted responsibility for the bag.
He said that the court is aware of the sentencing objectives and the guidelines handed down by the Supreme Court.
“I have looked at them and have indicated to the prosecution the categories they fall under,” Connell said.
The lawyer said that his client played a lesser role, with limited function and had very little understanding of the scale of the operation.
Connell said that there were no aggravating features of the offence but noted that the drug is cocaine, “a wretched drug not locally grown, comes from overseas and somehow penetrates the borders, seemingly easily”.
He said that the drug has destroyed many lives, including that of his friend “Cooman”.
The lawyer said there was a lack of sophistication in the concealment of the drug.
“That is merely compression and that can mislead someone that it is another controlled substance,” the lawyer said.He said there were no aggravating features of the offender, adding that Thomas was of a mistaken belief regarding the type of drug.
He said that mitigating on Thomas’ behalf was his good character, genuine remorse, his cooperation with the authorities and that he came into possession of the package through an act of kindness.
“I do not have a crystal ball but this counsel, given his salad practice and what he has experienced so far, he can predict the police. Some police look at the evidence and charge accordingly, other police look at the evidence and await instructions with the hope of climbing the ladder in the police force and during waiting on instructions, strange things happen; from field test to what turns into baking soda, washing powder,” Connell told the court.
He said that Thomas had no nexus “to a controlled substance like that.
“He lives in Owia, which is close to ganja land. We live in ganja land. We are blessed to have it. I am not ashamed to say that and I am not ashamed of any clients who have it,” Connell said.
He said that when marijuana is compressed, “it takes a similar shape to what is before the court, depending on what you use”.
Connell said that his client believed that he had been given marijuana hence the court must give him some credit for that.
He noted that even though his client thought it was marijuana, it was still illegal, but added that the police officer could not tell what the content of the package was before cutting it open.
The lawyer said that Thomas took the package home and hid it because he did not believe that he could walk around with “three pounds of weed”.
“He still had to get off the streets and get off the street he did.”
The lawyer said that people who have a medicinal cannabis permit could be in possession of pounds of marijuana.
“Some are of the mindset that once you have a licence you can walk around with it in your pocket.”
‘why would the prosecutor leave out that?’
Connell asked to be allowed to see the document from which Cato had read the facts.
“‘I think was weed inside the bag’,” the lawyer, reading from the document, quoting what Thomas had told the police.
“Now, why would the prosecutor leave out that?” Connell said, noting that his client had gone to Duvalier to help with a boat.
“O God. This is painful. A man in Owia tell you he run down to help someone save a boat, empty a boat. He think is weed.
“Many people in SVG who walk around with pounds of ganja because they think they have a licence. They have pounds of it home. And if the respected minister thinks that Grant Connell telling the court things he don’t know, I will personally take his hand and carry him,” the lawyer said.
“Ganja is what carried St. Vincent for years. Carry us. When I say us, I mean me too because they hire us. Lawyers work for ganja man. I ain’t afraid to say that. I ain’t shame to say that. They are my clients and they were clients of any leading criminal defence attorney if I may go back 25 years. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
The lawyer credited Inspector Noland “Grandpa” Dallaway of the Rapid Response Unit.
“I didn’t see him improve his rank in the last listing … but without him, since they put Bailey down by the prison, none of this would have been found. None of this, left to those other jokers, and I am not mincing my words this morning.”
The lawyer asked the court to consider the time his client spent in custody, noting that Thomas spent two nights additionally in custody after he secured bail.
He said that the police should not act “in a certain way. It is not entrapment. That’s why the police have failed so miserably. The confidence in the community is lost. If a man tells you he thinks he has a bag of weed, how can you go and say is cocaine. You, the officer, have to open the bag.”
‘wisdom of the judges’
The lawyer spoke of the wisdom of the judges who created the sentencing guidelines, which say that the court should take into consideration when an offender is under a mistaken belief about the type of drug.
Connell told his court that Thomas used to sail and like many Vincentians he put something aside for a rainy day.
“He never contemplated ever that he would have been in this mess. It was a stupid act but an act of kindness,” Connell said, adding that it is the norm for someone in Owia to ask someone to hold a bag “with a little compressed bush.
“That is the run of the mill; that is the norm. Cannabis feed people, educate people, put shoes on your feet, food in your belly and shirt on your back. Some people want to ignore that. It is wrong, but it is the reality,” the lawyer told the court.
He said that Thomas has scraped whatever little he had and it amounted to around EC$4,400.
“I know it is cocaine but the defence counsel, what he tells you about his thinking is in the facts, so it is not something submitted to you now as a reason to say it is a mitigating factor. When he met the police he told them that. You have to ask yourself the question why the police didn’t tell the court that.”
He said that police seem to get excited about cannabis.
“Get this white wretched thing off the street. Thank God for Inspector Dallaway — ‘Grandpa’. I don’t know what the police would do without him.”
The lawyer asked the court to impose a fine, telling him that his family members know he has walked the straight and narrow and will help him to ensure that he continues so.
Omission ‘not deliberate’
Meanwhile, in his representation on sentencing, Cato noted the presence of the press and said he has to first address the issue of why the prosecution did not mention that the defendant had said he thought it was marijuana.
“While I was reading the facts in this matter, counsel was sitting next to me while I read. And I was eliminating stuff from that facts and if counsel is sitting next to me and saw that, he could have drawn it to my attention.”
The prosecutor said that his omission of that bit of information was not deliberate.”
Cato noted the amount of drugs that was involved and that cocaine is not produced locally.
He noted the proximity of Owia to St. Lucia and the fact that there is a wharf there and boats make the inter-island trip.
“There is a value per kilo,” Cato said, noting that Connell did not address this.
He said that cocaine has a wholesale value of between EC$20,000 and EC$25,000 per kilogramme.
Know what you are transporting
The prosecutor noted Thomas’ guilty pleas, his clean record, and cooperation with the police.
“He told the police where he got it from — according to him; who he was taking it to — according to him, but who he got it from was just ‘a man’ — according to him.”
The prosecutor said that sometimes, when people ask others to transport things to people, they don’t see it as their duty to find out what they are carrying.
“Sometimes they feel it’s impolite,” the chief magistrate commented.
The prosecutor, however, said that he had a brother who was studying in Barbados and people would ask him to take things for others.
He said his advice to his brother was to always open packages before accepting them for transportation.
The prosecutor said that one of the interesting things about the case was that when Thomas was made aware that police were in Owia, he moved the packages from his room to his mother’s room.
“Very interesting; very, very interesting,” Cato said.
He told the court that the offence is very serious and cocaine has destroyed many young people in the society.
He asked the court to consider the public interest in the case, adding that the offence caused alarm in Owia and the rest of St. Vincent.
The prosecutor urged the court to use the sentencing exercise to deter the defendant and other people in possession of cocaine or who had intention to do so.
“It must be such that the public would see how seriously the court views these types of offences. It must send a message to show that the court has zero tolerance for cocaine. I just want the court to send that strong message out there to persons who have cocaine. I want the sentence to reflect that,” Cato said.
Court valued drug at EC$108,000
In handing down the sentence, the chief magistrate said that the court always views seriously possession of cocaine but each case must be assessed on its own merit when coming to a sentence, taking into account the sentencing guidelines.
In calculating her sentence, Browne began with a non-custodial sentence.
This meant that the value of the drug had to be ascertained.
She accepted the value as used by the prosecution, but said what was not pointed out was that the court could apply, as a punitive measure, a value three times that.
The court used EC$20,000 as the value per kilogram of the drug, which took the total value to EC$ 72,000 and the punitive effective that the court applied was 1.5 times the value, taking it to EC$108,000.
The court considered that the mitigating factors of the offence outweighed the aggravating and, therefore, deducted EC$4,000 from the sentence.
Browne said Thomas had shown clear and genuine expressions of remorse by his demeanour and carriage. She noted his relative youth and the fact that he was very cooperative with the police.
A further EC$8,000 was deducted as the mitigating factors of the offender outweighed the aggravating.
The chief magistrate also noted that Thomas has pleaded guilty relatively early in the proceeding, and she granted him the full one-third discount — amounting to EC$30,000
This took the fine down to EC$64,000.
The magistrate also ordered that the cocaine be destroyed.