Woman jailed for 2 years for trafficking ganja gets bail pending appeal

Anitha Qualis
Anitha Qualis

Anitha Qualis, a mother of four, who was sentenced to two years imprisonment after she pleaded guilty to trafficking one pound of marijuana, was on Monday released on $50,000 bail pending appeal by High Court Judge Navindra Singh.

At her first court appearance on September 21, 2020, Qualis pleaded guilty to the charge during her appearance before Magistrate Crystal Lambert at the Bartica Magistrate’s Court.

The prosecution’s facts were that on September 19, 2020, Qualis was at Karrau Landing, Mazaruni River, Essequibo when she was seen acting suspiciously. She was stopped and taken to the Bartica Police Station where her person was searched. A small black plastic bag containing cannabis was found hidden in her hair.

At the very first chance, Qualis had expressed great remorse to the police and accepted responsibility. She begged for mercy because the father of children had abandoned her and that she was trying to get food for them to eat.

In fact, she told the court, “I accepted the weed, I am a mother of four, and my children’s father left for the interior, and I never heard from him again. I decided to try a thing to provide for my children.”

A probation report noted that she was not fortunate to have opportunities in life to advance herself.

The law stipulates that the offence warrants a minimum of three years imprisonment, but Magistrate Lambert agreed with the woman’s attorney, Siand Dhurjon that there were sufficient and exceptional reasons to go below the mandatory minimum provided for in the Narcotics Act.

The Magistrate, however, disagreed with Dhurjon’s impassioned submissions that the accused should be given no sentence of imprisonment on compassionate grounds.

Dhurjon had highlighted that Qualis was deprived of having opportunities in life to advanced herself. He explained that she did not attend secondary school and was a victim of sexual abuse.

He explained that Qualis had her first child, who is now 16, when she (Qualis) was 15-years-old.

The attorney further explained that Qualis also bore three other children during the course of an abusive six-year relationship; they are ages 10, 14 and 15.

He told the court that, as a woman, Qualis was belittled and abused and kept down by her long-time partner who eventually abandoned her.

Attorney Dhurjon added that after his client lost her job at a snackette, she felt an “irresistible compulsion” to do all things necessary to feed her starving children.

He also explained that Qualis has had no criminal involvement save for this incident.

For all of these reasons, when the Magistrate handed down the sentence, Dhurjon applied for the suspension of the sentence under the Criminal Law Reform Act, Cap.11:05 which would have meant that Qualis would be released and if she reoffends then she would be reincarcerated.

But the Magistrate refused the application.

In his application for bail pending appeal before Justice Singh, Dhurjon argued, “The refusal of the learned magistrate to suspend Qualis’ sentence goes against recent precedents and practices in the summary courts as Qualis is a first-time offender of a nonviolent crime faced with such exceptional circumstances.”

According to the defence counsel, this is especially in light of the novel coronavirus which has afflicted at least 200 inmates of the prison population. To date, only just over half of the population has been tested for the disease.

“The policy of Government is that first-time offenders shouldn’t be in prison for small amounts of cannabis; it is a burden on our penal institutions. I read in the news that legislation is being drafted to mandate that jail sentences be removed for such small quantities, nevertheless, the magistrate had the discretion under Section 73(1) of the Act to order little or no jail time.”

Further, the lawyer contended that the sentence imposed on his client is “excessive, inordinate and, unduly severe.” This is so, he said, because it fails to take into account the mitigating factors in favour of his client.

Moreover, the lawyer argues that the fine of $754,500 which Qualis was ordered to pay is also excessive because the “illegal drug itself-just about one pound – was incapable of being worth more than $50,000, that being its street value.”