Prosecution caught with pants down in drug case

A joint operation involving officers from the Rapid Response Unit (RRU), the drug squad and the local coast guard was a success in the north of the country last week Wednesday, November 13th, but six days later the prosecution was left with his pants down at the bar table.

The operation saw the arrest of a Barbadian and two St Lucians and charges brought against them in relation to 350 pounds of marijuana they had on board a speedboat.

When the non-nationals – convicted Barbadian drug dealer Joel Payne and St Lucian nationals Eric Samuel and Jessie St Cyr – were taken before the Serious Offences Court last Friday, November 15, they pleaded guilty to charges that: (i) on Wednesday November 13, 2019, at Sandy Bay, they attempted to export 158,446 grammes (350) pounds of cannabis; (ii) on November 13, 2019, at Sandy Bay, they were in possession of 158,446 grammes (350) pounds of cannabis for the purpose of drug-trafficking; and (iii) ) on November 13, 2019, at Sandy Bay, they were in possession of 158,446 grammes (350) pounds of cannabis with intent to supply to another.

They were also pleaded guilty to charges that on November 13, 2019, at Sandy Bay, St Vincent and the Grenadines; (i) being prohibited immigrants, they entered the state without passport; (ii) they entered the state at a place other than a port of entry; (iii) they entered the state by boat without consent of an immigration officer; and (iv) they knowingly and willfully allowed themselves to land in the state as prohibited immigrants.

After the pleadings, Chief Magistrate Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne-Matthias adjourned the matter to this week, pending the prosecution’s presentation of the facts to the court to be followed by the sentencing phase.

On Tuesday morning, the prosecution presented the facts of the arrest of the non-nationals. All seemed to be going well until it was discovered that the police officer who arrested the men neglected a crucial factor, leaving the prosecutor in an embarrassing position.

There was no record of conviction for the Barbadian national who was imprisoned here on charges relating to 1,706 pounds of marijuana intercepted off Fancy in June 2013.

Payne was among four Barbadian nationals imprisoned in July 2013 for the drug haul. The conviction record should have been presented to the court on Tuesday to assist in the sentencing in relation to the 350 pounds of marijuana seized last week.

While the police had failed in their obligation, it was defense lawyer Grant Connell who, representing the two St Lucians, informed the court that Payne had an antecedent.

Connell told the Chief Magistrate that he had to be honest with the court so, while the police said Payne had no previous conviction he, indeed, the Barbadian national spent six years in prison here and was released in July last year.

Connell was at the time seeking to have the court impose financial penalties on the defendants instead of custodial penalties. He contended that prison was not a deterrent in the circumstances, using Payne as reference. He also contended that to imprison a person costs the state approximately $35,000 annually to feed him/her.

Following Connell’s disclosure to the court, Senior Prosecutor Adolphus Delpesche rose and said that “an issue has arisen touching and concerning the matter” and he would like to discuss it with her and Connell.

The prosecutor made an application for the matter to be stood down to facilitate a meeting. The Chief Magistrate immediately stood the matter down, suspended the court and went to her chamber. She was followed by the prosecutor and the lawyer.

When the court resumed sitting that morning, the Senior Prosecutor said the first thing he wanted to say was that he felt “really embarrassed” when it took the defense lawyer to inform the court that it one of the defendants had a previous conviction.

“For me, it is very embarrassing. This man has been in custody since the 13th (of November, 2019),” Delpesche told the court, indicating that the police had ample time to research the background of the defendants.

“So, I must thank the defense for their honesty,” the prosecutor said, adding that the Barbadian national would have been recorded by the Serious Offences Court as having no previous conviction.

“That having been said, your Honour, I am not looking for a custodial sentence,” the prosecutor told the Chief Magistrate, immediately taking his seat.

Chief Magistrate Browne-Matthias said she, too, was “concerned” that the issue of the Barbadian having a previous conviction in this country had to be brought to the attention of the court by the defense counsel.

The Chief Magistrate said that, as a result of the police failure to provide the antecedent record to the court it would go to the Barbadian defendant’s benefit.

While the Chief Magistrate commended corporal Caesar of the Black Squad for the arrest, she also said that “there must be further investigations” upon arrests “to uncover all stories.”

The men were each fined $38,700.00 to be paid forthwith for the drug charges. The prosecution withdrew the trafficking charge.

They were also fined a total of $1,400 each for the violation of the immigration laws.

When the court was adjourned for the day, the three non-nationals were still in custody. Their fines were not yet paid.

Chief Magistrate Browne-Matthias has also made orders for their deportation following settlement of their penalties.

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