Four men caught with more than 450 pounds of ganja were sentenced in Grand Court Tuesday.
Jamaican nationals Martin Trench, Basil Smith, Andre Russell and Kendal Straumann, travelling in a canoe, were intercepted by police on 7 Sept. 2018, some 27 miles east of Grand Cayman.
The men’s social inquiry reports revealed that they left Jamaica with the goal of going to Central America. However, shortly after they departed, “it became evident that none of them had navigational or sailing experience”, the reports noted.
When spotted by police, they began throwing packages overboard, which were eventually recovered. They were taken into custody and initially charged with a string of drug-related offences, including importation of ganja. However, because they were not within Cayman’s 12 nautical miles of territorial waters, the charge of importation of ganja was dropped.
In 2018, a total of 2,489 pounds of ganja were confiscated, which reflected a 52% increase compared to 2017’s 1,635 pounds, according to RCIPS crime statistics.
Trench, Smith, Russell and Straumann were four of 102 people arrested for possession of ganja last year.
Before the charge of importation of ganja was dropped, all four men entered guilty pleas while still in the Summary Court. When the matter was transferred to the Grand Court, the error was flagged and a revised indictment with a charge of simple possession of ganja was issued. The men all pled guilty to the charge of simple possession, and their original pleas of importation of ganja were vacated.
Defence attorney Rupert Wheeler argued that the mistake was tantamount to unfair treatment because the error resulted in the sentencing process being delayed. Wheeler argued that it should not prevent the men from receiving a full one-third discount for what would have been early guilty pleas.
Acting Grand Court Justice Marva McDonald-Bishop agreed and stated that she had intended to impose a starting point of an imprisonment term of four years and three months, but because of the error, she would reduce the starting point to four years.
First to be sentenced was 33‑year-old Trench, who is no stranger to Cayman’s criminal court. Justice McDonald-Bishop noted from Trench’s social inquiry report that he has had “numerous run-ins with the law” and was even deported from Cayman several years ago. Justice McDonald-Bishop sentenced him to two years and eight months in prison. She said his verbal expressions of remorse were unsubstantiated, as he provided no assistance to authorities.
Next up was Straumann. The 23‑year-old was sentenced to two years and two months behind bars for his role. Justice McDonald-Bishop said Straumann had expressed genuine remorse, and since being incarcerated had taken advantage of the educational courses available at Northward Prison. “You have been rated as having a low risk of re-offending,” the judge said. She added, “You are not beyond rehabilitation.”
Smith, 46, received a sentence of two years and four months. The father of 10 has been before Cayman’s courts before. His record revealed a previous conviction of illegal landing.
The final person to be sentenced was 34‑year-old Russell, who received the shortest sentence of the group. Russell’s social inquiry report rated him as having a low risk of re-offending.
“Whether for greed or need, all the men were enticed into the voyage for financial gain,” said Justice McDonald-Bishop. “The court cannot accept poverty as an excuse for breaking the law,” she added.
The time spent on remand is to be deducted from the men’s sentences. The judge also requested that the men be deported to Jamaica upon completion of their sentences.