Cocaine sentence starts at 5 years

Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale said last week that five years should be the starting point when someone is being sentenced for selling cocaine.

In sentencing Ian Jeffery Bodden, who pleaded guilty to selling cocaine to an undercover officer in November 2005, the magistrate said she could give a discount because of the passage of time. She handed down a sentence of four years.

The magistrate said the sentence of the court was designed to stop people dealing.

She quoted a case from 1991 in which the sentencing judge said that people who deal in crack cocaine, even at the lowest level and for the first time, deal in rapid addiction and degradation. Without such dealers the lethal traffic would not persist. Seldom would sentences less than five years be justified.

Defence Attorney Ben Tonner pointed out that Bodden’s case had taken so long to be dealt with because of problems with getting disclosure of evidence from the Crown. Bodden pleaded guilty in February this year.

He admitted selling 1.018 grams of crack cocaine to the officer for $100 at a business premises in Bodden Town.

‘If I had been sentenced six months after the case, I wouldn’t have cared,’ Bodden said. But since his offending, he has married, started a family, kept a job for two years and moved to better housing. ‘I don’t want to lose what I have,’ he told the court.

Mr. Tonner explained that Bodden, now 32, had lost his home and job after Hurricane Ivan in September 2004. ‘He became disenchanted and was drawn into things he ordinarily would not have been. He has managed some fairly remarkable progress in the last two years.’

Bodden did have previous convictions, Mr. Tonner acknowledged, but they were for possession and consumption of ganja. The magistrate suggested this showed familiarity with the drug culture.

Mr. Tonner asked that the court not pass a sentence that would undo much of the good work Bodden had done to date. He had managed to rehabilitate himself, as shown in two social inquiry reports and 10 reference letters the attorney handed up.

Bodden also addressed the court. ‘I lived on an extension cord for a very long time,’ he said. ‘There was all this cocaine and everybody approached me with it.’ He wanted to apologise to everyone, especially his mother, and said he respected the magistrate’s judgment.

After taking a break to consider sentence, the magistrate said she had been moved by the defendant’s personal plea. But everyone who was in Cayman for Hurricane Ivan would remember how difficult things were.

‘You were not alone,’ she told Bodden. ‘Many suffered loss, lived on an extension cord, had to send family away, suffered depression – but very few broke the law.’

It was in this context that she said her sentencing would start at five years.

Mr. Tonner had referred to a case the Crown took to the Court of Appeal. It involved three young men who admitted selling cocaine to undercover officers in a nightclub. The court said the appropriate sentences in that case should have been two years imprisonment. The judges did not state any general guideline (Caymanian Compass, 1 September).

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