A taxi driver of Union Island must pay a total fine of $106,500 as a penalty for the 229 pounds of marijuana discovered in his van last weekend.
Kenol ‘Heshake’ Alexander was caught with the controlled drug during a police operation in Ashton, Union Island on Saturday, February 26.
It was revealed at the Serious Offences Court (SOC) on Monday, February 28, that at around 4:56 a.m, having received certain information, Corporal 771 Bowens headed a part of Rapid Response Unit (RRU) personnel to search for a brown and black Toyota van driven by Alexander.
The police transport was patrolling in ‘Badeau’ when Bowens saw the van in question parked in a garage. He signalled the driver of the police transport to stop, and the law enforcement officers exited the transport to make observations. The Corporal also checked the vehicle’s muffler and found that it was hot, and therefore had recently been used.
The officers were communicating between another team and the Ashton police station, and Bowens instructed their transport to go to another team. He and another officers stayed on scene keeping the van under observation. While they were there, Alexander appeared from a yard not too far from where the vehicle was parked. Bowens called out “Heshake”, asking him to come. Alexander obeyed and the Corporal identified themselves as police to which Alexander apparently replied “I know”.
A search of his person revealed nothing illegal. When questioned about the van, Alexander said it belongs to his father but he operates it.
Still on the topic of the van, the Corporal inquired of Alexander if he had anything illegal to declare. “Yes, I have some weed in the van,” he told them.
On opening the van, the corporal found a garbage bag and two multicoloured sacks. Inside the garbage bag were five white sacks.
At the final count, 25 packages with plant-like material were discovered inside these sacks. The material was revealed to be marijuana by Alexander who apparently admitted, “Officer the weed ah mines”.
“I take full responsibility,” he also said, before he was arrested and taken to the Ashton police station along with the cannabis.
He gave a written statement admitting to the offence.
Subsequently, Alexander was charged for possession of a controlled drug, 103,966g of cannabis, with intent to supply.
The defendant’s attorney, Grant Connell mitigated for him before the court on Monday.
The lawyer also clarified on some points that he said were not covered in the facts. Connell informed Chief Magistrate, Rechanne Browne that Alexander is a taxi man on Union Island and supports his family through taxiing. The operator was apparently given a job to do in his capacity as such, but it wasn’t until later that he smelled cannabis and realised what was in the sacks. This necessitated him pulling into his home and although he tried to reach the individual for whom he was transporting the sacks over the phone, his efforts proved futile. In that situation he ended up taking responsibility for the drug.
The lawyer said that his client is a 36-year-old father of three who has no previous convictions. It was also confirmed by the court that he has no relevant convictions.
“(Alexander) has pleaded guilty at the very first opportunity so to do. He expresses extreme remorse for his actions,” Connell submitted, and has also co-operated with the police.
In his submissions to the court, the lawyer spoke to the sentencing guidelines of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) used to guide the sentence of Alexander.
In terms of classifying the quantity, weight and purity of the drug under the guidelines, it was noted that there was no smell emanating from the sacks of marijuana in court.
In comparison the lawyer noted that smaller quantities brought before the court in the past “lit up” the court room. Therefore, he submitted that this signified that the purity was not 100% and of a lower strength.
Connell also said that Alexander performed a lesser role, with “very little understanding of the scale of operations.”
While the counsel did not see any aggravating factors present concerning the offence and offender, he listed as mitigating factors the nature of concealment, that there was no attempt to run, that the drug is locally grown, and Alexander is of good character and showed genuine remorse.
In the end, Connell asked the court to entertain a non-custodial sentence. “He has his family to maintain. He’s a hardworking young man, he is relatively young,” the lawyer listed.
He further asked the court to impose a fine, noting that Alexander’s family was willing to help him pay this.
However, the prosecutor, Sergeant Renrick Cato commented that if every taxi driver operated in the way that Alexander did they would always find themselves in institutions like the court.
“As a taxi driver the onus is always on you to enquire what you’re transporting, to examine what you’re transporting,”he said.
The sacks could have contained guns, ammunition or dead bodies, the prosecutor pointed out.
In terms of the value of the marijuana, Cato told the court that the last value coming from the High Court was $500 per pound which would take the amount over $100,000. Under the law, he said, the court is able to multiply this figure by three.
Nevertheless, the prosecution told the magistrate that he would not oppose a financial penalty in the circumstances, noting specifically the defendant’s clean record and co-operation with the police.
Later that morning, the magistrate began her sentencing taking note that past cases involving similar amounts of cannabis have attracted five years prison terms. However, she noted that each case is taken on its own merit.
The magistrate acknowledged the substantial amount of marijuana, but also that the role was lessor, and, despite the precedent, the prosecutor did not object to a fine.
The value of $500 per pound placed the figure attached to the haul at $114,500.
“Of course because of the nature of the offence there is a punitive element that could be added, multiplying that by three. So the court applied the punitive element, not by three, by one point five,” Browne explained, taking the figure to $171,750.
The magistrate next considered the aggravating and mitigating factors for the offence and offender, and a total of $12,000 was subtracted.
Further, the figure was slashed by one third because of Alexander’s early plea of guilt.
This brought the fine to be paid to $106,500. It was ordered that $10,000 of this be paid on Monday, March 7 in default of which Alexander will face two months incarceration. The balance of $96,500 is to be paid by December 1, 2022, or a one-year prison term will take effect.
A destruction order for the marijuana was issued.
The magistrate commended Corporal Bowens, “for your policing and your mode of operations. So I am certain that helped with the situation and the arrest – the approach that you would have taken,” she said.