Magistrate Pearl Williams has denied bail to United States of America (USA) citizen Jason James Grogg who now stands charged with eight customs charges. Two days after the 44-year-old man was released from prison following his payment of a $25,000.00 fine for possession of firearms and ammunition, he was intercepted at the Douglas Charles Airport on May 4, 2023, whilst en route to Barbados.
Eight charges were later preferred against him, three charges of false declaration which he pleaded not guilty to, and five indictable complaints of evasion of customs duty. After the charges were read to the accused man, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Sherma Dalrymple objected to bail on the grounds that Grogg is a flight risk. She posited it was not in the public’s interest to grant bail to him as one of the charges is with respect to firearms and ammunition.
However, in response, defense attorney Jilane Prevost, who represents Grogg, guided by Julien Prevost, argued that it was in the public’s interest to grant bail to their client. According to her, the substantive matter relating to the firearm charges has already been dealt with by the criminal court and the public confidence relies not only on public safety but
on the due process of the law.
She added, based on a previous ruling by the High Court, bail cannot be denied based on the sole ground that a non-national is deemed a flight risk. After submission from both the prosecution and defense, Magistrate Williams remanded Grogg at the Stock Farm Prison pending her decision on the bail application on May 11, 2023.
When the matter returned to court on that day for decision, the Magistrate informed the court that she had not reached a decision on the bail application and requested further submissions from both sides.
On May 12, attorney-at-law, Sergeant Allen Alexander who led the prosecution’s case called Customs Officer Davidson Stewart who stated he was on the investigating team for the matter.
According to him, whilst Grogg was in police custody he informed his attorney of Customs’ interest in conducting an interview with him on May 4, 2023. However, he stated the interview did not materialise as the accused never showed up but instead on that date, he received information that Grogg was at the airport about to leave Dominica.
Stuart further testified that instructions were given to have the US citizen arrested and charges were later preferred.
Under cross-examination, Stuart admitted that he may have been erroneous concerning some of the dates provided to the court but stood resolute in his testimony that there was in fact an interview scheduled with Grogg and his attorneys for May 4, 2023. In his submissions to the court, Sergeant Alexander put forward two grounds for the prosecution’s objection.
According to him, based on section four subsection three of the bail act, a person charged with a serious offense that is punishable by a term of imprisonment or previously convicted for an offense is not entitled to bail as a right and shall not be granted bail unless they satisfy the court there is just cause to do so.
Pursuant to section six of the bail act, Alexander further averred, the prosecution has substantial ground to believe that should Grogg be released he will fail to surrender to the custody of the court for his trial as there is no real documentary evidence that the accused was expected to return to Dominica.
“He did not show up for an interview with customs on May 4, but was en route to Barbados with a one-way ticket and he failed to communicate his intent to leave Dominica with customs officials,” Alexander stated.
He argued that Grogg has no ties to Dominica as he is a missionary worker who is not gainfully employed.
The prosecutor urged the court, should it be minded to grant bail to Grogg, he pointed to section eight subsection two, the defendant’s requirement to produce security for his release. In response, defense counsel Jilane Prevost reminded the court that her client’s previous conviction stemmed from the same facts, circumstances, evidence, dates, and witnesses as the Customs proceedings.
She encouraged the court, in interpreting section four subsection three of the bail act, to take a wholistic view of the proceedings.
Prevost insisted it was speculative for the prosecution to assert what the defendant knew or ought to have known as there was no official notice of a scheduled meeting with customs on May 4 or any other date.
She posited, after being released from the court, all indications were that Grogg was a free man as his travel documents were returned to him with no further instructions, “and to say that he attempted to flee the jurisdiction is unestablished and incorrect.”
Since taking up residency in Dominica, Grogg, his wife, and three children have had no run-ins with the law prior to his conviction, therefore she put forward, there is no reason to believe that the accused will commit any other offenses whilst on bail.
“No witnesses are at risk,” Prevost added “and it would be crazy for him to try to interfere with any of them.”
On the issue of public interest, she declared, “it is in the public’s interest to know that a person who has just been convicted of an offense cannot be put in double jeopardy for the same facts and evidence of his criminal conviction and held on remand before he is proven guilty.”
Prevost continued, “it is in the public’s interest to see, if a person allegedly offends several laws they will be punished in totality and not passed around to take blows from various divisions in tandem, and if a person allegedly makes a false declaration at customs they will not be incarnated for want of money as these are financial crimes and not violent offenses.”
The defense attorney declared, an accused person’s cooperation with law enforcement should not be met with punishment but rather rewarded with trust to ensure his continued cooperation.
She concluded, Grogg is not a flight risk because he has sufficient ties in Dominica and has indicated his intention to remain here.
“All four of the defendant’s children are home-schooled by him and having lived off his pension as a millwright in the US. He is the sole provider for his family and Mr Grogg has applied for a work permit in Dominica.”
Prevost added, that Grogg’s work includes a Sunday school teacher, and mentor at the Dominica State College Christian fellowship club, he teaches evangelism and Catholicism for the Child Evangelism Fellowship Dominica chapter which he has taught in several schools and churches across Dominica.
However, in handing down her decision, Magistrate Williams stated, the court was not satisfied that there was just cause to release Grogg on bail. “He has only been residing in Dominica for two years, his children are all US citizens who are homeschooled so they can leave at any time, and he has no established job in Dominica apart from voluntary work.”
She continued, “ there is no evidence before the court to show that the work permit submitted or approved and he does not have a permanent place of abode as his rental agreement may end at any time.”
Magistrate Williams stated the public disaffiliation by FMS to Mr Grogg does not reflect the community ties which his attorneys spoke of hence the mission he came to Dominica for has ended.
For these reasons bail was denied, and the accused was remanded into custody at the Dominica State Prison.
An application for consolidation of the charges was set for June 8, 2023. The presiding Magistrate has since informed the court that she will conduct the trial of the summary matter but will set the indictable matters before another Magistrate.