Teacher to appeal ganja conviction

Marius Voiculescu, the teacher arrested at the airport with a half-smoked ganja spliff, was found guilty of possessing the ganja and fined $400. His attorney gave immediate notice of appeal.

‘It is reasonable to assume his conviction for possession of cannabis will end his career here and may well have far-reaching implications elsewhere, particularly his home country, Canada,’ Attorney George Keightley said before sentence was passed on 18 December.

He asked that a conviction not be recorded in this case because the consequences would include loss of job and having to leave the island.

There is no legal aid for the offence of possessing ganja, Mr. Keightley reminded Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale. Voiculescu pleaded not guilty and chose to pay for legal representation. For those expenses plus the expert evidence he sought to obtain, his bills were in the region of US$30,000.

The magistrate said she was well aware that the effect of a conviction for an offence of this nature was draconian. For someone on work permit, it meant not only loss of character but also loss of right to work and ultimately being forced to leave.

She said she could not agree with the request not to record a conviction, noting the matter had gone to trial.

The magistrate told Voiculescu she did not accept his reasons for being in possession of the spliff and she had not found him to be candid with the court.

In giving his evidence, Voiculescu, 40, told the court he was now into his eighth year in Cayman and was the computer teacher at George Town Primary School and John A. Cumber Primary School in West Bay. Since his arrest he was suspended on half pay.

He said he had no criminal convictions anywhere in the world. He had been smoking since he was 16 and a pack of cigarettes normally lasted him two days.

On Monday morning, 28 April, he and other teachers were going Florida to observe a school. At the airport, his carry-on luggage was inspected by a security guard.

The guard found a pack of cigarettes and a half-smoked ganja spliff behind the tinfoil in the package.

Voiculescu told the court he had found the pack of cigarettes and a $10 note late Saturday night in the parking lot of his apartment.

At the time he had only three cigarettes left. He picked up the money and the pack of cigarettes, then looked at the filters to see if they looked clean.

The pack was not sealed. He estimated there were 10 – 13 cigarettes inside. Between that night and Monday morning, he smoked seven to nine of them.

Voiculescu said he did not know the spliff was in the package. It was not his, he did not put it there, he did not smoke ganja or use any illegal drugs.

Cross-examined by Crown Counsel John Masters, Voiculescu said he might not have picked up a pack of cigarettes in another part of the island, but he lived in a clean, safe neighbourhood. He said he checked the filters, but not the other end ‘because I don’t stick that end in my mouth.’

The cigarettes he found were not his usual brand – ‘But when you run out you will smoke whatever your friend has.’ There was no brand he would absolutely avoid.

Mr. Masters suggested he had the ganja but forgot about it. Voiculescu denied the suggestion.

In their closing speeches, the attorneys highlighted various aspects of the case. It was agreed that the question was not whether Voiculescu was in custody or control of the ganja; the question was whether he had knowledge.

Mr. Keightley pointed out that Voiculescu’s urine sample had tested negative for consumption of ganja. A DNA test of the spliff showed it had been touched by two people, neither of whose DNA matched Voiculescu.

This scientific evidence plus the defendant’s account of what happened plus his good character should lead to an overwhelming doubt. That doubt should lead the court to a not guilty verdict, Mr. Keightley contended.

Mr. Masters submitted that the negative urine test was a neutral factor because it only showed that the ‘minimum threshold’ wasn’t present. He said the evidence of the person who did the DNA comparisons was untested.

He was referring to the fact that the evidence of the DNA analyst was in the form of a statement. The analyst was not present to be cross-examined. This point took up a significant part of the trial because the Crown did not agree to the analyst’s statement being read. The Evidence Law makes a statement admissible if the person who made it is outside the Cayman Islands and it is not reasonably practicable to secure his attendance. The analyst was in California.

In her verdict, the magistrate said the smell emanating from the cigarette pack had immediately alerted the security guard at the airport. She found it hard to believe Voiculescu would be in possession of the pack for over a day and open and close it seven to nine times without noticing the smell of the ganja.

His story of finding and keeping the cigarettes was hard to accept because of the fastidiousness with which he presented himself. She doubted he held the package at arm’s length when he examined the filters.

In addition to the $400 fine, she ordered him to pay $85 for its analysis. She said her written judgment would be available soon so that the appeal might be heard quickly.