Anitha Qualis, the mother of four, who was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for trafficking 503 grams of marijuana, was this morning, November 09, 2020 released on $50,000 bail pending appeal by Justice Navindra Singh.
Magistrate Crystal Lambert presiding at the Bartica Magistrates’ Courts had also ordered the 35-year-old woman to pay a fine of $754,000. Qualis had pleaded guilty to the charge at her first court hearing on September 21, 2020.
The prosecution alleged that on September 19, 2020, Qualis was at Karrau Landing, Mazaruni River, Essequibo when she was seen ‘acting in a suspicious manner’. She was stopped and taken to the Bartica Police Station where her person was searched when a small black plastic bag containing marijuana was found hidden in her hair.
At the very first chance Qualis had expressed great remorse to the police and accepted responsibility. She begged for mercy because the father of her children had abandoned her and, as the police alleged, she said that she was trying to get food for them to eat.
“I accepted the weed, I am a mother of four, and my children’s father left for the interior, and I never heard from him again. I decided to try a thing to provide for my children,” Qualis pleaded with the court.
During a sentence hearing before Magistrate Lambert, Qualis’ lawyer, Siand Dhurjon made an application pursuant to the Criminal Law Reform Act for a suspended sentence to be imposed on his client. However, the Magistrate refused the application and stated that she ‘did not see reason enough for the suspension of her sentence.’
In his application for bail pending appeal, Dhurjon contended that the Magistrate’s refusal to suspend his client’s sentence goes against recent precedents and practices in the summary courts as Qualis is a first-time offender of a non-violent crime faced with such exceptional circumstances.
“This is especially in light of the novel corona virus which has afflicted at least 200 inmates of the prison population. To date, only just over half of the population has been tested for the disease,” the lawyer submitted to Justice Singh.
According to Dhurjon, the policy of the PPP/C Government is that it is undesirable for first time offenders to be in prison for small amounts of cannabis. He said that imposing custodial sentences for small amounts of marijuana is a burden on the prison system.
The lawyer, therefore argued that the sentence of two years in prison impose on his client is excessive, inordinate and unduly severe as it fails to take into account the significant mitigating circumstances in Qualis’ favour.
“The fine of $754,500 was also excessive because the illegal drugs itself-just about one pound- was incapable of being worth more than $50,000, that being its street value,” the lawyer submitted in a Fixed Date Application at the High Court in Demerara.