More than three months after being jailed three years for possession of eight grams of marijuana, sparking a wave of criticisms, the Full Court yesterday upheld an appeal for Carl Mangal, a farmer, who was out on bail.
The court ruled that the lower court erred in not asking the defendant whether he agreed with the prosecution’s version of the events.
Attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes had taken the case pro bono after being approached by activist Mark Benschop.
Yesterday, the lawyer insisted that it was all a team effort.
Meanwhile, Benschop noted that the case is an important victory. He said that now the ruling has been made and there is a commitment by the administration to look at non-custodial sentences for small quantities of marijuana, it is the hope that consideration will be paid to the scores of inmates who are behind bars.
“…and I am hoping that they can do this retroactively.”
The sentencing of Mangal had brought the spotlight sharply back on a contentious issue, with deep division as to whether marijuana should be legalized and to what extent.
Hughes, in filing the appeal in May, said that there has been considerable, justified alarm at the imprisonment of this and other citizens for a lengthy period of time for user quantities of cannabis.
He had noted that it was only two years ago when another citizen was imprisoned for possession of user quantities and smoking utensils.
A draft Bill was presented by Michael Carrington, a Member of Parliament for the Alliance For Change, for consideration in the
According to Hughes, in an effort to seek national consensus and across-the-floor support for the Bill, the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, was approached to support the draft.
“He agreed to permit a conscience vote on the Bill, as he expressed the view that sentencing was harsh. The Leader of the Opposition publicly articulated this position.”
Hughes had pointed to a statement of the AFC, the smaller of two factions that make up the governing coalition, which called for no jail for small ganja possession cases.
“Now that the AFC have said that their party supports the amendment to the Act, perhaps the AFC along with those members of the Opposition who are sufficiently aggrieved by this odious piece of legislation, should vote to amend the Act, instead of waiting on further travesties of justice to occur,” Hughes had urged.
AFC had said in a statement that it is not objecting to the removal of custodial sentences for possession of small quantities of
“The Alliance For Change expresses its outrage and deep concern following the sentencing, to three years’ incarceration, of 27-year-old father and poultry farmer, Carl Mangal, for the possession of eight grams of marijuana.”
The AFC said it recognizes that the magistrates are constrained by the law with regard to the issue of custodial sentencing for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
“The party renews its call to all legislators to move with alacrity in upgrading the laws of Guyana to ensure that custodial sentences for small quantities of marijuana are removed from the books in their entirety.”
AFC said that custodial sentences serve, in large measure, to criminalize young people, particularly young men who have been caught with small quantities of marijuana – an offence which is a mere error in judgment and not representative of criminal behaviour.
AFC reminded that MP Carrington, since 2015, brought a Bill to the National Assembly for debate, but it has since been languishing on the Order Paper, being deferred time and time again.
Mangal had appeared before Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman, accused of having 8.4 grams of marijuana in his possession.
Mangal of Lot 2 Princes Street, Lodge, Georgetown, admitted to the charge, which alleged that on May 18, he had the illicit substance in his possession.
In the courtroom, the Magistrate told upset family members of Mangal that her hands were tied.
“I gave him the least sentence which is three years. He could have been sentenced to between three and five years. If you feel bad about this, the most you can do at this point of time is appeal the sentence, that’s the option that is open to you. I can’t do anything.”
Assessments of the prison situation over time have found that a significant number of inmates were in for drug-related offences, including persons being caught with small amounts.
Following the horrific Camp Street fire, moves have been made to reduce the prison population by releasing inmates whose sentences are nearing conclusion and reducing time behind bars.
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