POLICE were left shocked and confused after a court prosecutor recommended to a magistrate that a man charged indictably for having $1.56 million in cocaine be tried as a summary offence. This led to 34-year-old Anthony Rodriguez being given the option to plead. Having pleaded guilty, he was fined $17,000 or, in default of payment, serve two years in jail. He was given six months to pay the fine.
Rodriguez was arrested on Tuesday at his Boothman Drive, St Augustine home after police searched and found several packets of cocaine on the top shelf of a wardrobe in the bedroom. The raid was supervised by Ag Insp Damien Lezama of the Inter-Agency Task Force Strike Team. The drug weighed 3.918 kilogrammes.
Rodriguez appeared before senior magistrate Indrani Cedeno in the Tunapuna Magistrates’ Court yesterday. Newsday was told that the charge was laid indictably, which is typical for the most serious criminal offences including murder and possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking. A preliminary inquiry is usually conducted by a magistrate who then determines whether there is sufficient evidence to have the matter tried before a judge and jury in the High Court. Those charged are not called upon to enter a plea at the preliminary inquiry stage.
Summary offences are less serious criminal offences and the penalties, if found guilty, are not as great as indictable offences. These include use of obscene language, common assault, disorderly behaviour and having small amounts of illegal drugs. Some offences can be tried either way and include assault occasioning actual bodily harm, malicious damage and larceny.
In those matters under the Summary Courts Act, either the prosecutor or the defence may advance reasons to the magistrate why the offence is more suitable for summary trial and the defendant must consent to his matter being tried as a summary offence.
Under the Dangerous Drugs Act, anyone with more than ten grams of cocaine is deemed to have the drug in his possession for the purpose of trafficking and is liable, upon conviction on indictment, to a fine of $100,000 or, where there is evidence of the street value of the drug, three times the street value – whichever is greater – and to imprisonment for a term of 25 years to life.
Yesterday, senior police officers said they were in a state of confusion and disbelief about what happened in the court. They said given the quantity of cocaine recovered, the matter should have been heard at the High Court instead of the magistrates’ court. Despite being unemployed, Rodriguez reportedly agreed to pay the fine and was released.
Newsday yesterday spoke to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard, SC, who said he was unaware of the matter but intends to look into it.