As Magistrate Ayanna Baptiste-DaBreo considered a minor drug offence on Tuesday, she applied new sentencing guidelines launched last week by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court.
Ms. Baptiste-DaBreo then sentenced 21-year-old Bradley Bell to pay a fine of $950 for carrying 24 grams of marijuana after he pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled drug.
Defence attorney Andrew Morrison argued that mitigating factors included a lack of previous convictions, a guilty plea, good character, and proof of employment.
He said the defendant is from Dominica and has been living in the Virgin Islands for 11 years. Mr. Bell took a mechanics course at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College prior to working at the Twins Car Wash, according to the attorney, and earlier this year he began a company with his brother called Twins Trucking.
“He is something that the community would like to see young men do,” Mr. Morrison said, defending Mr. Bell’s character.
The attorney also noted that Mr. Bell took responsibility for the crime.
The court, Mr. Morrison suggested, should consider another point as well: Although the territory may not have a history of racism as deeply rooted as in places like the United States, he said, it does have a history of “shadism,” a term sometimes used to denote a bias based on skin tone.
In light of the changes of policy toward marijuana across the world, Mr. Morrison encouraged Ms. Baptiste-DaBreo to give Mr. Bell a noncustodial sentence and a $300 fine for his crime.
The magistrate replied, “Counsel is right: If you look at the history of these kinds of cases, it’s most likely a noncustodial sentence.”
Using the guidelines
She then went through the ECSC sentencing guidelines for drug-related offences to determine the appropriate sentence for Mr. Bell.
The first step was to consider the seriousness of the offence. For marijuana-related crimes, the lowest offence involves quantities of up to one kilogram. In this instance, Mr. Bell carried only 0.024 kilograms of cannabis, she noted.
Next, the magistrate determined that Mr. Bell was not a part of a “sophisticated operation” and deemed his role in the crime of lesser significance.
She also considered aggravating and mitigating factors, and then factored in his “late guilty plea.” Early guilty pleas, the magistrate said, result ina one-third deduction under the guidelines, but late guilty pleas result in a 20 percent deduction.
Recalling similar drug-related cases, she explained, the starting point for the offence was a fine of $1,200. She reduced the amount to $950 and gave Mr. Bell three months to pay it.