State to pay $25K for error that led to man's arrest

AN administrative error that led to the arrest of a man in December 2016 for failing to pay on time the $3,500 balance on a fine for cocaine possession time, will cost taxpayers $25,000.

On Wednesday, the State was ordered to pay damages to Ralph Rajaram because he did pay the balance of the fine, although late, before he was arrested.

Rajaram had been fined $12,000 on July 6, 2015, by a San Fernando magistrate and was first given three months to pay. This was extended to February 2016, and he made a payment, but had an outstanding balance. A warrant was issued in March for his arrest for non-payment of the outstanding sum.

On April 1, 2016, he paid the balance, but in December he was arrested on the warrant.

In the proceedings before the judge, the State said when Rajaram paid the outstanding sum in April, it was accepted in error, since a time-allowed warrant had been issued the previous month.

In his decision, while he found nothing improper in Rajaram’s arrest, Seepersad said there was an evident administrative error by the Judiciary’s administrative staff when it accepted the late payment. He said Rajaram was led to believe his fine was paid. He said had he been told he could not pay in April and there was a warrant for his arrest, he could have made arrangements to surrender so he could pay his balance, preventing the “shock, shame and surprise” in December, when he was arrested at home.

Seepersad said Rajaram could not be blamed for the error, and proper training, efficient monitoring, and digitising the system might have prevented it.

“Mistakes are a consequence of human limitations but in a civilised and democratic society, they must be owned, remedied and rectified. Citizens ought not to be lightly deprived of their liberty and administrative errors cannot be swept under the carpet.

“Such errors undermine the public’s trust and confidence in institutions of the State and in a society where institutional dysfunction is manifesting itself with alarming frequency, the Judiciary must ensure that its administrative processes are engaged effectively and efficiently,” he said.

Seepersad said there was now a dire need for a technological revolution in the operation systems at the district (magistrates’) courts.

He found the error led to a breach of Rajaram’s rights as the State failed to engage the necessary safeguards to ensure his liberty was not unreasonably, unfairly or oppressively compromised.

Rajaram was represented by attorney Dane Halls. Attorneys Tiffany Kissoon and Sasha Sukhram represented the State.

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