By Leroy Smith
[www.inewsguyana.com] – The decision by Magistrate Alex Moore to grant a suspended five year sentence to confessed cocaine trafficker Leonard Bacchus has received condemnation from several sections of society.
However, iNews was reliably informed that Magistrate Moore took the man’s constitutional rights into consideration before passing down the sentence.
Bacchus, a father of three of Enmore/Haslington New Scheme, East Coast Demerara was arrested three years ago after a police raid netted the $300M worth of narcotics.
He was also given a s suspended sentence of two years for being in unlawful possession of 125, 12-guade cartridges and 115, .32 rounds of ammunition, which were found at his house during the police raid.
He pleaded guilty to the offences. According to legal minds, who have been following the case, Bacchus threw himself to the mercy of the Court when he changed his plea from not guilty to guilty.
iNews understands that Bacchus was on trial when the Magistrate demitted office, forcing a retrial before Magistrate Moore, resulting in more legal fees for the accused.
Information suggests that this incident caused the accused some amount of distress and took a toll on the financial standing of the father of three.
The Prosecutor who was first assigned to the case attended a training course, and then proceeded on leave followed by his transfer out of the chambers of the DPP.
The hearing of the matter would be further delayed by the repeated absence of the replacement prosecutor without excuse, coupled with a period of uncertainty as to whether the original prosecutor would return to complete the case.
When the issue was decided, the new prosecutor then requested a further extension of time to get familiar with the case. When called upon to lead a defense, Bacchus took a decision to take a plea bargain and offered to change his plea to guilty, in exchange for all charges to be dropped against his son.
He expressed a willingness to pay a fine, but submitted that in his current financial situation he was only able to realistically offer $2.5M, with the assistance of family members and friends overseas.
The Court asked if he had it when he informed the Magistrate that he only has $300,000 in his possession and requested until next June to acquire the remainder.
At this point the Magistrate sought input from the Prosecutor who agreed to have Mr. Bacchus’ son discharged but insisted that Mr. Bacchus be given a 3-5 year custodial sentence as required under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act.
While agreeing that the circumstances of this case were ripe for a custodial sentence if the matter had been completed within a reasonable time, the Magistrate pointed out that the time that the State took to try this case was anything but reasonable and amounted to a breach of the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial within a reasonable time.
The Prosecutor disagreed and submitted that the Magistrate had no jurisdiction to consider constitutional rights. The Prosecutor agreed that constitutional motions were made before the High Court but opined that he could not conceptualize a situation where a Magistrate declined to be guided by the Supreme Law of the land without absurd or unjust results.
Magistrate Moor found that the restarting of the man’s trial, absence of the Prosecutor and other unfortunate developments all contributed to a case of delayed justice which amounts to justice denied.
He considered it unconscionable to imprison Bacchus after three years and two trials which had caused the defendant to lose so much.
To do so, the Magistrate opined would be oppressive and sees a shift “from prosecution to persecution”.
Accordingly, he imposed the fine requested together with the maximum sentence of five years in prison but suspended it on a condition that it will be activated if Bacchus commits any offence within that time.
In departing from the custodial sentence prescribed by the Act, the Magistrate relied on the wide discretion given to him by the Summary Jurisdiction (Procedure) Act which governs all proceedings in Magistrate’s Courts.
Section 39 empowers a Magistrate to substitute a prescribed penalty with any other penalty within his power which he deems just in the circumstances.
The State has since appealed Magistrate Moore’s decision.