Attorney-at-Law Anselm Clouden is calling for amendments to be made to legislation governing drug-related criminal offences in Grenada in light of the 12 year prison sentence handed down on one of his clients.
The accused Nigel Murray was sentenced last week Thursday to prison time after he was convicted of two drug related offences on April 16th 2015 – possession of a controlled drug and trafficking of a controlled drug.
Madam Justice Margaret Price-Findlay who was sitting at the St. George’s High Court Number One fined Murray EC$150, 000 to be paid on or before February 29th 2016, and in default serve a 10-year prison term.
He was not so lucky on the second count of drug trafficking and was given a 12 year prison sentence.
Speaking to reporters after the verdict was handed down, Clouden said he felt that the sentence was “excessive” and suggested that the act should be re-looked.
“The Act is in terrible need of legislative amendment,” Clouden told reporters following the hearing.
Clouden said the law does not speak to sentencing for quantity for an offence, asserting that “it’s impractical,” and that the “penalties are out of proportion with the quantities found especially when we are dealing with marijuana.”
“Someone found in simple possession of one marijuana cigarette on summary conviction is subject to a fine of $250, 000 or five years in prison,” Clouden noted, adding that, “This is impractical”.
It was one of the main points argued by the attorney-at-law to plead his client’s case in an attempt to influence the Court to impose a minimum sentence.
Clouden told the court that Murray should be “fined rather than confined” at Her Majesty’s Prison.
He said the “draconian piece of legislation” makes “no distinction as it relates to quantity (of drugs),” arguing that “the time has come…where we need to be more pragmatic and realistic as it relates to treatment handed out to drug offenders.”
He also expressed the view that “as heinous as the crime may appear to be and as draconian the penalty” that “we are living in a global community,” pointing to the legalisation of marijuana in several states in the United States.
“We are living in an enlightened age, where in 35 of the 50 states of the great United States of America they have either decriminalised it (marijuana) and have now made it prescriptive for medicinal purposes and also they have limited quantities for recreational purposes, so we are now in an enlightened age,” said the advocate for the decriminilisation of ganja.
Clouden told reporters, he finds his client’s sentence to be too “excessive in all the circumstances of the case” and that “both the sentence and conviction would be appealed.”
He declared that the sentence handed down “failed to recognise the fact that for possession – a fine other than a custodial sentence is a most appropriate disposition.”
“This was a majority verdict”, he noted, while pointing out that “two members of the jury declared his client not guilty while seven found him guilty.”
Clouden also holds the view that Murray was “not given a fair trial” and made mention of what emerged during the trial with the difference in the quantity of the drugs, which he claimed was short by 73 pounds when brought to the Chemist for analysis approximately six months after it was confiscated.
“If the Exhibit Keeper says that he didn’t release those exhibits to go to the Chemist and he did not get them (the exhibits) back from the witness who said he took them – something is wrong,” he said.
Clouden expressed the view that “the charge should have been amended” based on “the fact that the weight of the drugs was significantly reduced by 73 pounds.”
“He (Murray) is sentenced on 208 pounds when there is only 135 pounds” accounted for in the evidence,” Clouden pointed, while insisting that Murray’s sentence is “unrealistic.”
“This is an anomaly…you are sentencing a man for 208 pounds of marijuana when in fact the evidence submitted to the court was in fact 135 pounds,” he told reporters.
Murray, along with former co-accused Murrel John were arrested and charged by police on two drug related offences in a matter dating back to October 2009, which centered around 208 pounds of marijuana carrying a street value of between EC$300, 000 to EC$500, 000.
The illegal drugs were confiscated by the police from a vehicle driven by Murray somewhere in the vicinity of the Grand Mal Fish Market jetty area.
However, during the trial the nine-member jury found John not guilty and the charges were dismissed against him.
Several witnesses who took to the stand last week Thursday, including his elder brother, younger sister and business colleagues described the convicted Murray in the sentence hearing as nice, humble and respectable.
They referred to Murray as a good businessman and expressed desire to see him return to his family and continue operating his business.
Murray, who is the father of two teenagers, testified under oath during trial that his sales company was very profitable, making a profit of approximately “EC$10, 000 to 12, 000 in one week.”
Justice Price-Findlay pondered on the question that if Murray’s business was so successful why did he get himself involved in such an activity.
In administering the sentence, the senior high court judge said she “cannot believe that he thought he was going to the jetty to do anything legitimate at that hour” in the wee hours of the morning he was detained by police officers.
Clouden also addressed what he said was reports that State Prosecutors were making moves to institute confiscating orders to go after Murray’s property.
This, he said is a matter to be addressed when they reappear in court on July 23rd.
Clouden indicated that this new issue would also be addressed in the upcoming appeal to be filed on behalf of his client.