A United States Virgin Islands man was sentenced to spend eight months in prison and pay $2,000 in fines after being apprehended while trying to enter this territory recently during the round-the-clock curfew, Senior Magistrate Tamia Richards ruled last Thursday during a Magistrates’ Court sitting held remotely over the video conferencing application Zoom.

Bryan Boland and Virgin Islander Tambu Frett were arrested April 3.  That day, police chased Mr. Frett’s rubber dinghy to The Bight on Norman Island after watching Mr. Frett leave the territory and return with Mr. Boland on board, according to an April 7 memo from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

After his arrest, Mr. Boland was charged with breach of curfew, for which he was sentenced to 45 days behind bars and fined $1,000; and illegal entry, for which he was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined $1,000, Ms. Richards ruled last Thursday.

The sentences are to run concurrently.

Abnormal times

In handing down her sentence, Ms. Richards said the court accepted several mitigating factors, including the fact that he pleaded guilty at the first possible opportunity, had no previous convictions, and expressed remorse.

However, these factors were outweighed by the harm Mr. Boland could have inflicted by potentially bringing Covid-19 into the territory, and by potentially infecting his pregnant girlfriend, who he intended to visit, Ms. Richards said.

The magistrate noted that the USVI had foregone some of the strict measures implemented in this territory and had confirmed many more cases of Covid-19.

In the past, some magistrates have handed down non-custodial sentences for breach of curfew, but during the coronavirus age, sentences for such crimes must have “sufficient deterrent effect,” she added.

To guide her ruling on Mr. Boland’s illegal entry charge, Ms. Richards looked to an earlier decision made by Lord Tom Bingham of Cornhill which established that in most cases, minor offences of illegal entry should result in custody, she said.

That same decision indicated that “the more aggravating features, the higher the sentencing will be,” she said.

After police arrested the men and searched their vessel on April 3, they conducted interviews under caution, Ms. Richards said.

During their interview with Mr. Boland, the defendant gave “vague and inconsistent answers” and claimed he had been on Jost Van Dyke, Ms. Richards said.

Further investigations, however, found that Mr. Boland had left the territory on March 16 and had not returned since, which his girlfriend affirmed in her statement to police, Ms. Richards said.

Though Mr. Boland lives in the USVI and is a naturalized US citizen, he maintains a Greenland apartment where his pregnant girlfriend lives alone, though before the lockdown he visited roughly every week, Ms. Richards said.

Mr. Boland had stated that his purpose for boating to the VI was to keep his pregnant girlfriend company during the lock-down, and in her statement to police his girlfriend said “she insisted” he come and stay with her, Ms. Richards added.

The defence

In previous court proceedings, Stacy Abel, who represented Mr. Boland, claimed that as there was no curfew in the USVI at the time and his territory’s borders remained open, her defendant was not aware that the VI had already imposed a 24-hour-per-day lockdown, Ms. Richards said.

Mr. Boland also instructed Ms. Abel that he did not previously know Mr. Frett, she added.

“During the first lockdown he had spoken to a friend in St. Thomas. He told the friend of his situation and that of his girlfriend’s, and the friend indicated to him that he may know someone who could assist him with his current problem,” Ms. Richards said.

Ms. Abel also had argued that as Mr. Boland pleaded guilty, had no previous convictions, and had not come to the territory intending to commit crimes, it would be impractical to send him to Her Majesty’s Prison at Balsam Ghut, where he could potentially infect other inmates with Covid-19.

Instead, however, he and Mr. Frett have been held in Paradise Hotel on Main Street, where several rooms recently were declared a prison.

‘No dumber reason’

Ms. Abel also previously argued that Mr. Boland should be fined and sent back to the USVI, the magistrate explained.

“They submitted that he was a concerned person trying to get to his girlfriend before the full 24-hour lockdown occurred,” Ms. Richards said of Mr. Boland’s lawyer’s defence.

Ms. Richards, however, was unconvinced by Mr. Boland’s reasoning.

“I could think of no dumber reason to break the laws of the Virgin Islands,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Mr. Boland was arrested with Kehinda Frett. Mr Boland was actually was arrested with Tambu Frett.