The final two of six Guyanese drug traffickers are homeward-bound after the Barbados Court of Appeal, using its “discretion” released them based on the time already served for trafficking cannabis and cocaine into the island 14 years ago. The court gave each convict credit for time spent on remand and “bundled” the drug offences according to section 22(1) of the Interpretation Act, Cap 1.
Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson in dismissing the appeals against the “safe and satisfactory” convictions noted that there was no lurking doubt about their guilt and that trial “reached a conclusion that is unassailable”.
Today’s ruling brought a nine-year appeal to an end in what Chief Justice Gibson described a “legendary” case involving 464.5 pounds of illegal drugs which came to a close today.
However, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeals against the December 2009 sentences in the cases against Lemme Michael Campbell and Rohan Shasti Rambarran and varied the sentences “in our discretion to time served”.
Today’s 94-page decision handed down by Sir Marston came over three years after the court heard the appeal which was lodged back in 2010.
Six persons were arrested, tried and convicted of importation, possession, trafficking of 91.3 kilos of cannabis and 119.4 kilos of cocaine on November 29, 2005. The illegal substances were discovered in 16 hollowed-out logs and two suitcases when lawmen executed a search at the residence of Christopher and Dianne Bacchus.
The husband and wife never appealed and have since been released from prison along with two other appellants Somwattie Persaud and Gavin Wayne Green.
At the start of today’s proceedings, the Chief Justice declared that the case
deserved the description legendary for several reasons.
“It was the longest trial in recent memory, and perhaps in the entire history of trials in this country to occupy the High Court of Barbados. The trial took some 14 weeks, resulting in ten volumes of trial transcript consisting of 4,656 pages, a summation volume of 545 pages, and a mitigation and sentencing volume of 136 pages, for a total of 5337 pages of trial transcript,” he stated.
In addressing the appellant Rambarran who was represented by attorneys Sir Richard Cheltenham, QC, and Shelly-Ann Seecharan, the Chief Justice pointed out that the trial judge in sentencing stated that he was the “principal or mastermind” behind this illegal enterprise making arrangements to ensure that the illegal drugs were shipped to Barbados.
He was then sentenced to 15 years for importation of cannabis; 20 years for importation of cocaine; 15 years for possession of cannabis; 20 years for possession of cocaine; 25 years for trafficking of cannabis; 30 years for trafficking of cocaine. The sentences were to run concurrently from December 11, 2009.
In the case of Campbell, who had Arthur Holder and Kendrid Sargeant as his attorneys, Sir Marston reminded the sitting that the sentencing judge indicated that ‘you played a major role in the execution of these offences and there was a high degree of sophistication employed in getting these drugs in Barbados’.
He was sentenced to 15 years for importation of cannabis; 20 years for importation of cocaine; 15 years for possession of cannabis; 20 years for possession of cocaine; 20 years for trafficking of cannabis; 25 years for trafficking cocaine. Those sentences were also to run concurrently.
However the island’s top judicial officer said the court “must emphasise, therefore, that we do not, indeed cannot, say that the trial judge erred since the rules which we now apply did not exist for the trial judge’s benefit during the sentencing”.
Those rules are that a convicted person must be credited their full time spent on remand.
“Nonetheless, it is now settled law . . . to be utilised in a pending case are the current rules and not those extant at the time the original determinations were made in the case itself. It suggests an uncomfortable level of retroactivity more often seen in legislation which expressly states that as its purpose.
“The fact that the sentences were imposed upon appellants Rambarran and Campbell some two years before a court decision by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) does not deprive them of the right to full credit for the time which they spent on remand prior sentencing,” he stated.
He explained that there was also another rule which must be retroactively applied and it involves the “bundling” of offences of trafficking, importation and possession of drugs – according to section 22(1) of the Interpretation Act, Cap 1 of the Laws of Barbados which stated that an offender is not to be punished twice for the same act or omission.
As such the court dismissed the importation and possession of cocaine and cannabis charges and focussed on the trafficking charge of both substances.
Stating that the court was unable to find evidence that Rambarran was the mastermind or central actor, the sentence was adjusted and began at a starting point of 20 years for trafficking cocaine and 15 years for trafficking cannabis. After taking several factors into account the sentence was adjusted downward to start at 15 years for trafficking of cocaine and ten years for trafficking cannabis. His four months served on remand were then deducted leaving Rambarran with 14 years and eight months for trafficking cocaine and nine years and eight months for trafficking cannabis – to run concurrently from the date of sentence, December 11 2009.
The Chief Justice further stated that there was no indication that the case against Rambarran and Campbell was “sufficiently different” in relation to their role or execution of the offence but were “however different to the other four who have all been released from custody”.
Campbell got the same starting sentence as Rambarran but after taking in several considerations it was adjusted downwards to 15 years for trafficking cocaine and ten years for trafficking cannabis. His four years and 11 days spent on remand were then deducted leaving him with ten years, 11 months, 19 days for trafficking cocaine and five years 11 months, 19 days for trafficking cannabis, also to run concurrently from December 11, 2009.
“We, therefore, conclude that the just thing to do is to vary the sentences to time served and direct the release today of appellants Rambarran and Campbell,” Sir Marston said before the two were escorted out of the Supreme Court by three immigration officials and a representative from the Guyana Consulate.