The granting of bail to persons facing drug-related charges based on the street value of the narcotics appears to be posing major challenges for the island’s magistrates’ courts.
The magnitude of the problem came to light this afternoon during an exchange between defence attorney Andrew Pilgrim, QC, and District ‘A’ Magistrate Douglas Frederick in the case of 48-year-old salesman Dexter Wayne Reid of #168 Regency Park, Christ Church.
Reid is facing three indictable charges of possession of 282 pounds of cannabis, possession with intent to supply and trafficking the drugs, which has a street value of $565,400.
Prosecutor Station Sergeant Neville Watson had objected to bail on four grounds, including the value attached to the cannabis and the nature and seriousness of the offence. He also argued that Reid was a possible flight risk and there was a likelihood of similar allegations arising.
But in a strong and forceful defence, Reid’s lawyer Andrew Pilgrim, QC, agreed that the offence was serious, but argued that there were several other factors the magistrate should consider.
Pilgrim told the court that his client had turned himself in to police when he saw a notice on Facebook; was not at the house where the drugs were allegedly found and has no previous convictions.
And he reminded Frederick that several persons charged with more serious crimes or in connection with drug finds of much larger quantities and greater value, and who had previous convictions, had been granted bail in the same court.
“We cannot take significant guidance from street values. The High Court has said that. What about people in Barbados on gun possession charges and 1,000 pounds of marijuana [who got bail]?” he submitted.
Pilgrim, a former president of the Bar Association of Barbados, wanted to know where the cut-off point was and called for more consistency in the magistrates’ court in such matters.
In response, the magistrate said while all the circumstances of the case had to be considered in offering bail, he too was concerned about the cut-off point.
“At what part is that cut-off point to be made? We in the magistrates’ court have been pushing the envelope. We may push the envelope up to one million dollars or two million dollars. Magistrates have had an unwritten law of one million [dollars as the cut-off point]. Magnitude is the concern here,” emphasized the presiding judicial officer.
He said he did not want to keep making new laws by granting bail based on the street value of the illicit substance and called for directions to guide magistrates, defence attorneys and the public in matters of bail.
Frederick also said that it was harder to get bail in the magistrates’ court than the High Court.
“It seems that everybody gets bail in the High Court,” he added.
The magistrate noted that the significance of this case involving drug-accused Reid was that he had no prior convictions.
He was therefore released on $175,000 bail after his friend Stanton Millington of Edghill Heights, St Thomas offered a plot of land as collateral. Reid was arrested and charged in connection with the drug find at a house in Regency Park, Christ Church on April 28. The case was adjourned until tomorrow.