Lack of witnesses frees woman

A woman charged with drug offences has been found not guilty in Summary Court after her trial had to be re-listed at least seven times because witnesses did not attend.

Defence Attorney Phillip McGhee told Acting Magistrate Valdis Foldats that his client had been arrested in November 2003 for possession of a little over four ounces of ganja with intent to supply.

The woman, now 37, pleaded not guilty and her first trial date was set for May 2004. Since then, the matter has been set for trial 17 times and on seven of those occasions the Crown witnesses did not show up, Mr. McGhee said.

The absent witnesses were police officers at the time of the arrest. One of the officers has since retired; the other resigned two years ago and no longer lives here.

Crown Counsel Jenesha Bhoorasingh asked for a brief adjournment in the morning to see if the witnesses could be contacted.

Just before lunch, she reported that the retired officer could come to court at short notice; he had told her he did not receive a summons. The second witness was on island, but could not be reached. He intended to leave Cayman the following day.

Ms Bhoorasingh had received the file the previous day because the Crown Counsel assigned to the case was in Grand Court. She had no information why the witnesses had not been summonsed. She asked for an adjournment just until the next day.

Mr. McGhee again objected, saying there was no assurance an adjournment would accomplish anything.

He called the delay scandalous and said it brought the court into disrepute. He cited factors a judge should consider when deciding whether to grant an adjournment.

They included the importance of proceeding and likely adverse consequences of adjournment; the risk of prejudice if the application to adjourn is refused; the risk of prejudice or disadvantage to the other party if the adjournment is granted; the convenience of the court; the impact on future court lists; and which side was responsible for the adjournment.

Mr. Foldats agreed that other matters had already been scheduled for the next day. He asked why this case should take priority. He also asked if the Crown could say with certainty that the witnesses would be present the next day.

Ms Bhoorasingh said yes for one witness, but she did not know about the other.

Ms Bhoorasingh said it was in the public interest to continue because the defendant was accused of intending to carry the ganja to an inmate at Northward Prison.

Mr. Foldats thanked both counsel for their submissions and said he did not lightly disregard public interest. ‘But there comes a point when public interest calls for action.’

He did not grant the adjournment and asked the Crown to call its first witness.

Ms Bhoorasingh replied that no witness was available, so she had no evidence to offer.

Mr. Foldats said the verdict was not guilty, the charges were dismissed and the defendant discharged.

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