A 37-year-old man from San Juan has been spared a jail term after pleading guilty to marijuana trafficking.
Ganesh Lochan pleaded guilty to the offence on March 15 but was only sentenced by High Court Judge Gail Gonzales during a virtual court hearing yesterday.
In her decision, Gonzales ruled that a prison sentence, though applicable in the case, was inappropriate in the circumstances.
She noted that Lochan was 19-years-old when he committed the offence in 2003 as she pointed to a section of the Dangerous Drugs Act, which gives judicial officers the discretion to give lesser sentences to persons charged with drug offences, who are under the age of 21.
“In this case, I consider that the legislature recognised that persons under the age of 21 may well fall under the influence of drug traffickers simply because of their youth, inexperience, and immaturity,” Gonzales said.
She noted that Lochan appeared to be a “low-ranking player,” who was influenced by his relatives involved in the drug trade.
Gonzales noted that a prison sentence would have a dire effect on Lochan’s 70-year-old mother and his 10-year-old son, who suffers from a terminal degenerative muscle disease and remains under his custody after his mother expressed interest in having him placed in State care.
“A custodial sentence in my view is setting him up to re-offend,” she said.
Gonzales noted that Lochan was entitled to a discount on his sentence for pleading guilty. She said he was not given the full one-third discount as he did not confess to the crime at a preliminary stage.
In assessing the appropriate fine for Lochan, Gonzales noted that the legislation prescribed a $100,000 fine or three times the street value of the drugs, whichever is greater, upon conviction.
Gonzales made her calculations based on the street value of the drugs at the time of Lochan’s arrest ($77,000) and not the current street value which was almost twice the amount.
Gonzales noted that Lochan would normally be liable to a $221,000 fine but said that such was unrealistic for him based on his monthly salary of almost $5,000.
Instead, Gonzales chose to fine Lochan $60,000, which would be paid in $2,000 monthly instalments over 30 months.
While Gonzales said it would cost Lochan significantly, she explained that he would still have an opportunity to avoid jail through personal sacrifice.
Gonzales was careful to note that her ruling in Lochan’s case should not be taken as a legal precedent for less harsh sentencing in drug trafficking cases, as it was “an exception rather than a rule.”
“It is not to be taken as an indication that persons can approach the court with a series of unfortunate events and expect to get off lightly on drug trafficking charges,” Gonzales said.
According to the evidence in the case, Lochan was charged with the offence after he was found on a boat with a crocus bag containing 11 packages of marijuana.
Lochan went on trial for the offence in 2009 but it ended with a hung jury and a retrial being ordered.
Lochan was represented by Daniel Khan and Harrynarine Singh while Norma Peters and Kezia Gray-Birkette prosecuted.