Wednesday 2 December, 2020

Jamaican judges ‘sink yard man’ in Bermuda Appeal Court

The Bermudan Court of Appeal has added three more years to the prison sentence of a man from St Andrew in Jamaica, who was convicted of smuggling cocaine into the island last year, the local media reported on Monday.

Further up against the ropes is 22-year-old Dwayne George Watson, of Mavis Bank in East Rural St Andrew, who was sentenced to a six-year prison term by a Supreme Court judge in January of this year.

He has picked up an additional three years from an Appeal Court panel which included two Jamaican judges, after prosecutors successfully argued that the original sentence was inadequate.

Watson was arrested at the Bermuda LF Wade International Airport with over US$200,000 worth of cocaine. However, he told authorities that he was hired to take the drugs, which he thought were cannabis, into the country.

But while the Supreme Court judge bought his explanation and sentenced him on that basis, the appeal panel, including Jamaican-born Justice Anthony Smellie, would have none of it.

In its judgement, it cited Watson's cannabis claim as having not been enough to earn him the reduced sentence which he initially got.

“A mere assertion by a defendant that he believed the drug to be different from that actually imported must be approached with great circumspection,” outlined Smellie.

“In response to an indictment for importation of an illegal drug, it can hardly be sufficient for him merely to point to the condition of the container itself as reason for his failure to ascertain the true nature of the drugs. There should ordinarily be something more — some objective point of reference — against which his professed belief might be assessed for credibility,” the Appeal Court judge added.

Watson travelled to Bermuda from Jamaica through New York on September 1 last year, and was stopped for a random search at the airport in Bermuda.

During questioning, customs officers reportedly noticed that he was uneasy and that his suitcase in focus had been zip-tied shut.

An X-ray of the suitcase later showed irregularities and, when forced open, the handle of the case and its base and corners were found to contain white powder substances inside. This included cocaine and crack cocaine.

The drugs collectively weighed more than one kilogramme, which prosecutors said had an estimated street value of up to over US$200,000.

Upon the discovery, Watson told the authorities that he agreed to smuggle cannabis into the country out of desperation, as he had struggled to find work in Jamaica, and was supposed to get $3,000 for successful completion of the supposed assignment, which he planned to use to buy a taxi in Jamaica.

He expressed shock to have ‘found out’ that the illicit cargo was cocaine.

Watson was given the six-year prison sentence on the basis of his professed belief that the drugs was cannabis.

But the matter was not over, as an appeal was launched by prosecutors on the basis that the sentence was inadequate.

While factors like the convict’s early guilty plea, lack of any previous conviction, his youth, plus his supposed belief about cannabis, were cited by his defence attorney as indicators that the sentence was appropriate, the Court of Appeal found that the Supreme Court judge had set the basic sentence “far too low”, resulting in an inadequate final sentence.

Justice Smellie, in the judgement, said the defence’s submissions, “do not justify or explain the disparity of sentencing in this case. This sentence, when assessed against the established principles and precedents of sentencing, must be regarded as manifestly inadequate.”

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