– spares him doing time for 8g of ‘ganja’
THE High Court on Friday upheld an appeal on a three-year sentence imposed on a man by a city magistrate for the possession of 8.6 grams of marijuana.
The appeal was filed by attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes on behalf of Carl Mangal, who was sentenced to prison by Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman back in May.
It was alleged that on May 18, 2018, at Princes Street, Georgetown, Mangal had in his possession 8.6 grams of marijuana, to which charge the 27-year-old pleaded guilty.
According to evidence presented by the prosecutor, on May 18, ranks acting on information went to Lot 2 Princes Street, where a search of the defendant’s home unearthed two Ziploc bags of stems and leaves of what looked suspiciously like marijuana.
Mangal admitted to the police that the marijuana was his, and was arrested and taken to the Brickdam Police Station.
After sentence was passed in the lower court, Mangal’s family members broke down in tears, begging the magistrate to be lenient.
He was subsequently put on $40,000 bail pending the appeal.
When the matter was called on Friday during a Full Court before Madam Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry and Justice Sandil Kissoon, State Prosecutor Shawnette Austin, who is attached to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Chambers, indicated that the DPP would not be objecting to the appeal being allowed.
Justice Sewnarine-Beharry, in delivering the ruling of the court, indicated that the court would allow the appeal on the following grounds:
That Magistrate Latchman failed to enquire of the unrepresented defendant, whether the facts related by the prosecution were true and correct; and that failure to do so and to determine based on his response, whether the plea should be sustained or changed to a not-guilty plea, before sentencing, nullified the sentence imposed by Magistrate Latchman.
The Alliance For Change (AFC), of which Mr Hughes is a member, had called for swift action to remove custodial sentencing for persons found with small amounts of ganja. The case has also revived calls for reform of the laws prohibiting the use of ganja here in Guyana.
“Custodial sentences serve, in large measure, to criminalise young people, particularly young men who have been caught with small quantities of marijuana – an offence which is a mere error in judgment and not representative of criminal behaviour,” the AFC had said.
AFC Member of Parliament, Michael Carrington, since 2015 had tabled a Bill in the National Assembly for debate, but it has since been languishing on the Order Paper, being deferred time and time again.
Said the AFC: “The time to act is now. We must no longer sit idly by and allow our young men and women to be sentenced to several years of jail time alongside hardened criminals, murderers and rapists.
“We will not be found complicit in destroying the lives of our young people and wounding our society rather than acting to heal it.”
The party has also announced that it will commence plans to host, in the near future, a national symposium on the issue, at which all stakeholders and sectors of society will be invited to deliberate and exchange views.
Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo was quoted as saying that he believes marijuana penalty laws must be reviewed to address the number of young people being locked up.
“I share the view that Guyana should review sentencing guidelines, and liberalise laws that make custodial sentencing mandatory for small quantities of marijuana. Too many of our young people are in jail as the law, as is, provides for imprisonment for quantities above five grams and does not give magistrates a discretion.”