Trinidad: Man fined $17,000 for cocaine worth $1.56 million

FINED: Anthony Rodriguez who was fined $17,000 for cocaine worth $1.56 million.

(Trinidad Newsday) DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard, SC yesterday said senior magistrate Indrani Cedeno could have requested additional information from police, before she decided to fine a man $17,000 for having 3.9 kilos of cocaine at his St Augustine home.

Responding to a suggestion by Cedeno that she felt the sentence was appropriate because the police prosecutor failed to present evidence on the value of the cocaine, Gaspard said Cedeno had the option of adjourning the matter so that the relevant information could be given to the court at a later date.

In defending the failure to appeal the $17,000 fine, or in default of payment –­ two years’ imprisonment sentence, Gaspard said the law simply did not allow the State to do so.

The sentence was passed on 34-year-old Anthony Rodriguez when he appeared before Cedeno in the Tunapuna Magistrates’ Court on May 23. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to the charge after the police prosecutor recommended to Cedeno, that the case be dealt with summarily which afforded Rodriguez the opportunity to plead.

Summary charges relate to matters in which an accused can enter a plea after which a magistrate can hear evidence, arrive at a verdict and pass sentence. Indictable charges are reserved for more serious cases and must ultimately be tried before a judge and a jury in the High Court.

The sentence caused a stir among police officers and members of the public. Gaspard, in an interview with Newsday days after, also expressed concern over the apparent lightness of the sentence given the quantum of drugs involved. He told Newsday that he was satisfied with the procedure followed by police prosecutors in the matter and an appeal was being considered.

Contacted yesterday, Gaspard said: “There was no appeal, because after a meeting with Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Harold Phillip, and having received a report from the police prosecutor, and having considered the law in this matter I decided not to appeal. Because of how the law is constructed, it does not appear that the State has a right to appeal this sentence in a summary matter.

“The DPP had nothing to do in this matter, the DPP’s office only got a report after the matter was dealt with by the magistrate.”

He said former DPP Geoffrey Henderson, SC, in 2005, issued a memorandum to police prosecutors which enabled them to recommend summary trials in drug matters if the amount was below five kilograms. In such cases, there is no need to consult the DPP’s office.

He said the document also stated a magistrate presiding over the matter may also be inclined to consider the suspect’s criminal history and the multiplicity of offences, including the quantity of drugs found or whether the accused pleaded guilty, and the sentencing options available would be enough to match the offence.

Despite this however, he also said the perceived lightness of the sentence was discouraging to police who risked their lives to interdict the trafficking of drugs. “Obviously this sentence has attracted serious concern from the wider community, the police service and Office of the DPP because, on the face of it, it appears to be on the lighter side, notwithstanding the guilty plea.”

He said in cases where the accused pleads guilty, the sentence imposable is discounted by one third. Gaspard said yesterday, “The magistrate seems to be suggesting that the police did not provide her with a value. If that is so, the magistrate had a duty to be fair to both sides.

“The magistrate would have been within her jurisdiction had she adjourned the matter for the police to provide information, and a more informed decision would have been made. She could have requested that the police provide her with the street value.”

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