By Hermisha Rolle, Staff reporter
Majority of the appeal matters against the convictions and sentences of Magistrate Tiyani Behanzin brought before the Court of Appeal here this week were altered and ruled to be in contrary to the law.
Some three prisoners were freed, having served sufficient time in prison. While 19 of Behanzin’s sentences appeared before the Court of Appeal, the three justices of appeal reserved their judgments on some, stating that they would alter certain things in those reserved matters.
A matter involving Leon Joseph presided over by Magistrate Behanzin was the only one that was ruled to be a proper sentence. Joseph was sentenced to three years for theft.
In one instance, Justice of Appeal Honourable Ola Mae Edwards stated, “every step he (Behanzin) made was the wrong step, it’s very depressing.”
While dealing with another matter she remarked that he had shown a trend of “arbitrary sentencing,” with no regards to the law.
Consequently, several prisoners who had been sentenced and serving time at the Dominica State Prison were released after Justice Edwards, Justice Michael Gordon Q.C and Justice Janice Mesadis George-Creque of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court ruled that their sentences were too harsh. According to the Appeals Court, the convicted men had already spent sufficient time in jail.
One matter involved Roy Joseph, who had been sentenced for wounding by Magistrate Behanzin. According to the Court of Appeal, Joseph had not gone through a full trial, after pleading guilty with an explanation, which is “no plea” in the court of law.
“The magistrate was wrong to accept the guilty plea with explanation,” one justice of appeal remarked.
A guilty plea with an explanation should be regarded as a not guilty plea, according to the justices of appeal.
Bruno Valmond, who had been sentenced for three years on a conviction of wounding, was also released on bail for the same reason. He had already spent over a year in prison. His matter was remitted to be retried before Chief Magistrate Evelina Baptiste on June 8, 2010 at a Roseau Magistrate’s Court.
Teddy Ian Ellick- incarcerated since April 2009 on a conviction of threatening words and conduct- was given the option of $1,000 bail on his own recognizance, after the justices of appeal said that the relevant documents relating to the case were not found. The defendant is however already serving another sentence for an unrelated matter.
“We don’t know why you got here. We don’t know how you got here … At the absence of certain relevant documents that are required by law tells us that we should squash what has taken place … back to chief magistrate for the matter to be dealt with … and in accordance with the law,” one justice of appeal told him.
He will appear in court on June 8, 2010.
Ellick later withdrew his appeal.
A sentence against Shelton Hamilton where he was sentenced to seven years for theft and resisting arrest was altered. Though the justices of appeal ruled that Hamilton had been correctly sentenced on the theft conviction for six years, they concluded that the additional one year jail for resisting arrest should have been made to run concurrent and not consecutively. He will now serve a total of six years imprisonment. Hamilton had a lengthy history of theft.
“You must stop taking people’s things,” the justices of appeal advised him.
The convicted man after hearing the outcome of his appeal stated, “All you let go all them criminals and behind me all you be?”
Kenneth Fontaine’s sentence of six years imprisonment for theft was reduced to four years, on the grounds that he had no history of theft. According to the Court of Appeal, “this is something he (the magistrate) should have taken into account.”
Meanwhile the decision for a matter involving Robin Daniel, convicted of battery, has been reserved to be submitted in written form at a later date. This decision will be consolidated with other decisions. The justices of appeal agreed Daniel had not been given sufficient time to prepare for his trial, and there was no evidence that he had been awarded the opportunity to call his witnesses.
Another matter which involved Ian Williams was remitted to Magistrate’s Court for retrial, after the Court of Appeal concluded that his trial was also too swift. He was released on $1,000 bail on his own recognizance. He will appear in court on June 8, 2010.
According to information disclosed in the court, Williams had already spent 11 months in jail.
Bail was opened for Gerald Lewis, who had been sentenced to 12 years for grievous bodily harm. His matter was also remitted to the Magistrate’s Court for retrial before a different magistrate, other than Behanzin. Lewis had pleaded guilty with an explanation and sentenced without a trial.
Lewis was also deemed by a psychologist to be unfit to plea and stand trial,11 days before he was sentenced. His bail was opened in the sum of $3,000 with a proper surety.
Carlos Edwards was also released after spending two of a six-year sentence on a conviction of theft. His appeal was successful on the grounds that there was evidence from the Magistrate’s Court that the defendant had only heard “some” of what was said during his trial since he had a hearing problem.Edwards told the Court of Appeal he was not able to hear properly. He had also informed Magistrate Behanzin of that issue, during trial.
“That would compromise justice … when we have looked at the fact that you have already spent two years in prison, it seems to us the better thing to do is to treat the time you spent in prison as time served and discharge you …We vary the sentence to two years … and treat it as the time spent in prison,” Justice Edwards noted.
The appeals involving Connie Royer, Richard Honore, Bethland Blanchard and Gibson Cochrane were successfully appealed. A decision was reserved for a matter involving Emmanuel Azille, who was convicted of possession of offensive weapon.
There were 13 Magisterial Criminal Appeals against Conviction and seven Magisterial Criminal Appeals against Sentencing- one of which was a matter Chief Magistrate Evelina Baptiste presided over.
The Court of Appeal convened on Monday at the Parliament building.