Inmate's trial aborted, drug charge dismissed

Prison guard who was to be a witness breached procedure

The case against an inmate charged with possession of ganja at Northward Prison was dismissed last week after Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez found that there had been a breach in court procedure by one of the prison guards who was to be a witness in the trial. 

Allan Dolan Barnett, 62, was charged with possessing 6.3 ounces of ganja in the prison on Oct. 3, 2014. 

Before Magistrate Hernandez began hearing evidence on Sept. 9, witnesses were asked to wait in the anteroom outside the courtroom. 

Because Barnett did not have an attorney, the magistrate asked him for his account of the incident so that she could identify the issues that were in dispute. 

It turned out that the prison officer who had charge of Barnett’s custody at court was the same officer who had found the ganja on him. As such, he was the main witness for the Crown. 

This officer sat in court while Barnett gave his account. Neither the magistrate nor Crown counsel Toyin Salako was aware of his identity. 

As a witness, the prison officer should not have been present in court when the defendant gave his account, Ms. Salako explained later. She pointed out that the witnesses had been asked to wait outside. In any event, prison officers would have known the procedure, she added. 

Barnett first appeared in court on Jan. 20. At that time, he told Chief Magistrate Nova Hall he was in charge of the tool shop and on Oct. 3 he was checking to make sure nothing was missing. He said he saw a black object, picked it up, smelled it and realized it contained ganja. 

Barnett said he hid the object in his clothing with the intention of taking it to the shift commander. He acknowledged that he hoped to receive a little reward for turning it in. “I didn’t have it for me to use or to give to any prisoner,” he stated. When a prison guard noticed a bulge in Barnett’s clothing and asked him to hand the object over, Barnett said he didn’t want anyone to see it. 

Defense attorney John Furniss, who was in court for another matter, said it seemed that Barnett had a defense. “If he has it with the intention of taking it to the shift commander, he has it lawfully,” Mr. Furniss said. 

Based on the explanation, the magistrate entered a plea of not guilty and a trial date of Sept. 9 eventually was set.