Hardship is no excuse for theft

Hardship is a common excuse put forward for theft, but it is no defence and very little mitigation, Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale pointed out during a recent sentencing.

She made the comment after hearing details of thefts committed by Marlene Gillian Davis at her place of employment.

Davis, 36, had pleaded guilty to obtaining $9,688.15 from her employer by deception between June and September 2003.

She was sentenced on 13 April to 12 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $10,000 compensation or serve a further six months.

Theft in the workplace is an offence usually committed by females, the magistrate observed. The same sort of impetus is put forward – financial hardship. And yet there is a whole echelon of women who survive here on $200 a week and send money home and do not break the law.

Defence Attorney Clyde Allen indicated that Davis’ hardship arose from a most difficult situation.

She is not Caymanian, but married a Caymanian after arriving here. They had a child. The marriage was subsequently rendered a nullity because her previous marriage in Jamaica had not been dissolved.

Several years ago she appeared in Grand Court and pleaded guilty to a charge of bigamy on the basis that she would have ground it difficult to prove she had taken sufficient steps to be divorced. She had been informed the marriage would be dissolved, but that did not occur.

She was a single mother who was not receiving financial support from the child’s father. The child is Caymanian, but since she is not, she had trouble getting a work permit. When she finally did get employment she had trouble making ends meet. The offences were committed during a period of personal turmoil and embarrassment, Mr. Allen told the court.

He suggested a community service order, with the defendant given help to find employment. He suggested it was a matter of human rights that the mother of a Caymanian child should be able to get employment.

The magistrate asked who would take out a work permit for someone with two convictions.

Mr. Allen said Davis was offered employment, but the permit was not granted.

The magistrate did not seem surprised. ‘Let us not put fine words on it: it’s stealing from the boss. It breaches the trust he put in you,’ she said.

Sentencing precedents made it clear that considerations include not just the amount stolen, but the level of planning and how the money was taken. In this case, it was not the exigency of the moment. The thefts were well planned and executed over a period of time.

According to facts presented by Crown Counsel Trevor Ward, Davis committed the thefts by creating false invoices and submitting them for payment for goods. She also used genuine invoices from customers already paid and falsified the figures.

In passing sentence the magistrate said she did note the tremendous impact it would have on the child. But the defendant should have considered this before putting her child at risk. This factor was being taken into account; otherwise Davis would have been looking at two years.

Mr. Allen indicated earlier that the defendant did have relatives who would come forward to help make restitution.

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