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Court increases jail sentence for Jamaican cocaine smuggler

by: - August 7, 2018
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(Jamaica Observer) The Court of Appeal has added another three years to the jail sentence of a Jamaican man convicted of smuggling cocaine into the island, media reports said yesterday.

Dwayne George Watson, of Mavis Bank, St Andrew, was sentenced to six years in prison earlier this year by a Supreme Court judge, but will now have to serve nine years after prosecutors successfully argued the sentence was “manifestly inadequate”.

Watson, who was arrested at Bermuda LF Wade International Airport with US$200,000 worth of cocaine, told authorities he thought he was importing cannabis.

In his judgement, Appeal Judge Anthony Smellie said Watson’s claim was not enough to earn him a reduced sentence.

He said: “A mere assertion by a defendant that he believed the drug to be different from that actually imported must be approached with great circumspection.

“In response to an indictment for importation of an illegal drug, it can hardly be sufficient for him merely to point to the condition of the container itself as reason for his failure to ascertain the true nature of the drugs. There should ordinarily be something more — some objective point of reference — against which his professed belief might be assessed for credibility.”

Watson had flown to Bermuda from Jamaica via New York when he was stopped for a random search on September 1 last year.

Customs officers noticed he shook while he answered questions and that the suitcase had been zip-tied shut.

An X-ray of the case showed “irregularities” in the handle.

Customs officers drilled into the handle and found white powder inside. A further search revealed 11 packages of cocaine and cocaine freebase, also known as crack, in the case’s base, handle and corners.

More than a kilogramme of cocaine was found, which prosecutors said had an estimated street value of up to US$200,634.

He told police he agreed to smuggle cannabis into Bermuda because he had struggled to find work in Jamaica and was shocked to find the packages contained cocaine. He said he expected to receive US$3,000 and planned to use the cash to buy a taxi.

In January, Acting Puisne Judge Juan Wolffe sentenced the then 22-year-old Watson to six years in prison on the basis that he believed the drugs to be cannabis.

But the Crown launched an appeal, on the grounds that the sentence was inadequate.

Watson’s lawyer, Elizabeth Christopher, argued that based on her client’s youth, early plea and lack of previous convictions, combined with his mistaken belief about the drug, the sentence was appropriate.

The Court of Appeal found that the judge had set the basic sentence “far too low”, which resulted in a low final sentence.

Jamaican-born Justice Smellie said: “While there is some cogency to Ms Christopher’s submissions, they do not justify or explain the disparity of sentencing in this case. This sentence, when assessed against the established principles and precedents of sentencing, must be regarded as manifestly inadequate.”