Why cocaine sentences were different

Two young men were sentenced last month on charges relating to the supply of cocaine. One received a prison term of five years. The other received a suspended sentence.

Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale said she had deliberately scheduled the sentencing of Elvert Mark McFarlane and Leon Isaac Ramoon for the same day because they seemed to raise the same issues.

After careful review, however, she found that they did not.

Social inquiry reports and medical information indicated that Ramoon was mentally impaired, while McFarlane was mentally ill.

McFarlane, 21, was of normal functioning, the magistrate summarised. But he had been diagnosed as manic-depressive; when depressed he got upset and violent.

He was before the court for assault causing actual bodily harm in addition to two charges of supplying cocaine to an undercover police officer.

The supply took place on two successive days in September 2005. Both times the officer paid McFarlane $25 for a rock quantity at a location in East End.

The typical sentence for street-level dealing is five years. McFarlane pleaded guilty.

Under the new regime of a Drug Rehabilitation Court, he might have had access to that court for the cocaine offence if he were a user supplying to support his own habit. But there was no evidence of drug use because he had refused to provide a specimen of urine for testing.

Further, the Drug Rehab Court does not take cases involving violence because the first task of the court is to protect the public, the magistrate noted.

She said two things concerned her – McFarlane’s mental illness that needed to be treated and his propensity for violence. Local hospital facilities were not appropriate for his situation.

The magistrate said she had been advised that there are now two forensic psychologists at Northward Prison, so that was the best option. With appropriate treatment, maybe there was a real possibility for McFarlane’s rehabilitation.

For other charges, including the assault and a failure to provide a specimen, the magistrate imposed concurrent sentences.

For offences involving the taking of 17 lobsters on one day, being more than the limit of five and during closed season, the sentence was six months consecutive.

Ramoon, also 21, had pleaded not guilty of possession of cocaine with intent to supply. Police officers testified that they saw him place a small object in the gas tank area of a vehicle parked outside a bar. After speaking to him about it they recovered the object, which proved to contain cocaine. Ramoon told the officers, ‘If you don’t have pictures, you don’t have a case.’

The magistrate found him guilty.

She said his matter had caused the court much anxiety. Following a head injury as a child, Ramoon’s cognitive functioning was so low as to amount to an impairment. He was highly susceptible to influence from others – perhaps drug peddlers using him to distribute their product.

The magistrate noted that Ramoon had been in prison before the cocaine offence. While there, he began exhibiting bizarre and extreme behaviour, which caused him to lose any time off for good behaviour.

A probation report indicated that a return to prison would be counter-productive to say the least. The cocaine offence occurred in 2005 and Ramoon had not been charged with anything since.

‘After careful consideration I am of the view the community may be best served if he is allowed to remain within it,’ the magistrate concluded.

Reports indicted that his behaviour has improved, he has not had violent outbursts, he had done some work as a painter after his release and he was willing to work.

The magistrate said that the signs of mental illness Ramoon had displayed while in prison might have been the result of drug abuse. If his mental status is affected by drug abuse, then prison was not the answer since drugs were still available there, she understood.

While on bail, Ramoon had no longer used drugs and this was verified by drug tests.

‘I see no value in imprisonment. They cannot teach him how to function in the community. In fact, it appears the most assistance he has received in functioning within the community has come from his mother,’ the magistrate said.

‘I am taking an extraordinary course, a calculated risk in the hope the public will be better protected,’ she said.

That course was to impose a sentence of two years imprisonment, but suspend it. The magistrate placed Ramoon under the supervision of the probation unit. She told him to get a job, remain drug-free and not give trouble.

She recommended that his mother take him to drug counselling and also ask for help in getting him some work.