The Grand Court has upheld a 30-day prison sentence for visiting Canadian national Thomas Michael, who breached Cayman’s quarantine regulations by removing his government-issued wristband while in isolation.
The starting point for the original sentence was six months, which was reduced due to ‘mitigating circumstances’ and a guilty plea.
Michael, 42, arrived in Cayman on 20 March to work as a screenwriter for a film project.
He was accompanied by his wife, two children and their nanny. The group had opted to quarantine at a private residence, in line with Cayman’s quarantine options.
Three days into the mandatory 10-day isolation period, officers from Travel Cayman’s Mobile Compliance Team attended the residence as part of a routine check. During this check, officers say they observed Michael, the children and the nanny outside the house without wearing their wristbands.
According to the prosecution, “The officers identified themselves as members of the MCT. The adults appeared startled, went inside the house bringing the children with them and shut the door.”
The prosecution said officers knocked and waited outside the residence for “an extended period of time”, and when Michael did return, he was wearing his wristband and denied that he had taken it off.
Police were called to the scene and the group was transported to a government quarantine facility, where they completed the remainder of their isolation.
The prosecution told the court Michael eventually confessed to the crime in a letter, in which he claimed he removed the wristbands so that he and his family could enjoy the pool at the residence, and that there was never any intention to breach quarantine.
On Friday, 14 May, Chief Magistrate Valdis Foldats imprisoned Michael for one month following a guilty plea to a single count of failing to comply with Regulation 3(3)(2)(ii) of the Control of COVID-19 Regulations 2021.
When appealing the sentence before Justice Cheryll Richards, Michael’s legal counsel argued the sentence was manifestly excessive for effectively removing a wristband in circumstances where he had no intention to breach quarantine.
Michael claimed the entire ordeal had cost him $150,000 and significant emotional and mental distress. He appealed the judgment on four main grounds.
The first ground was that Foldats was wrong to have applied the sentencing guidelines on breach of curfew without adjusting it [in Michael’s favour] to reflect the fact that he did not breach the curfew, nor did he breach the quarantine and “the fundamental requirement of continued isolation was faithfully adhered to”.
The second ground claims, that having failed to adjust the guidelines in favour of the appellant, the chief magistrate used a starting point which was too high, and therefore the resulting prison sentence was manifestly excessive.
The third ground was that Foldats was wrong to have found the remarks of the Court of Appeal in the case of Skylar Mack and Vanjae Ramjeet applied with equal force to Michael’s case. The argument was that by equating the same degree of force, the chief magistrate had no option but to impose a sentence of imprisonment, which Michael said was an error in law.
The fourth and final ground was that the nanny, who was charged and acquitted, has since returned to Canada, leaving Michael’s wife, who is seriously ill, as the sole person to care for the couple’s children. This was admitted as fresh evidence to be evaluated when considering whether the sentence was manifestly excessive.
In response to the appeal, the prosecution said the chief magistrate’s approach to sentencing was correct in law “as he was keenly aware that the offence for which the Appellant was charged was distinct from the breach of quarantine case”.
The prosecution also added, “The application of the Breach of Curfew Guidelines and the Court of Appeal case of Mack & Ramjeet were correctly tailored to the offence for which the Appellant committed and that the fact of the unavailability of the nanny to care for Appellant’s wife, who is seriously ill, and his two children should not have the effect of reducing what was an otherwise appropriate sentence.”
When returning her decision, Richards said there were several strong mitigating factors in Michael’s case, including the fact that he did not leave the residence, he received his first COVID-19 vaccine dose prior to departing for Cayman and the second upon arrival, and he entered a guilty plea.
However, when handing down her judgment, Richards said the sentence was not manifestly excessive because the starting point for Michael’s sentence was six months in prison, less than half of the starting point for Mack and Ramjeet. She said that it was clear that the chief magistrate was cognisant of the difference between the two cases.
Richards also noted that the six-month starting point was then reduced by 75% to reflect the mitigating circumstances, and a further one-third reduction was applied to the sentence due to the guilty plea.
She dismissed the application, claiming that Michael’s removal of the wristband struck at the heart of the government monitoring process.