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Cancer Victim's Case Subject Of Historic Appeal

By LAMECH JOHNSON

Tribune Staff Reporter

ljohnson@tribunemedia.net

A MAGISTRATE will make history today when she reconsiders, upon direction from the Court of Appeal, the sentence of a cancer victim who told the court he was going to sell the drugs for which he was convicted late last year to pay for his cancer treatment.

Deputy Chief Magistrate Carolita Bethell will determine an appropriate sentence proportionate to the 51 grams of cocaine for which Anthony Armbrister was convicted in November 2011.

The Court of Appeal, on May 4, quashed the sentences of Armbrister and Andrew Davis, who were also convicted for possession of dangerous drugs with intent to supply.

Justices Anita Allen, Christopher Blackman, and Abdulai Conteh all agreed that the minimum four year tariffs handed to Armbrister and Davis, though lawful, were excessive due to the amount of drugs involved and other surrounding circumstances.

"The circumstances relating to the appellant in each case must be balanced against the seriousness of the offence of possession of drugs with intent to supply," they concluded.

"Nevertheless, not to regard these matters of mitigation and impose a sentence of four years resulted in a grossly disproportionate sentence in each case."

As a result, they sent the sentencing back to the magistrate's court for reconsideration.

Armbrister and Davis were the first convicts to appeal the new mandatory four-year prison sentence for drug possession with intent to supply.

Armbrister, a penile cancer patient, was one of the first persons to receive the new, longer minimum sentence after the law was amended on November 4, 2011.

He pleaded guilty a week later to having 51 grams of cocaine with an estimated street value of $2,000.

He told Magistrate Bethell that the drugs were to be sold to pay his medical bills.

The magistrate said her hands were tied on the question of sentencing because of the new law.

In December, Davis pleaded guilty to possessing six ounces of marijuana valued at $300. He claimed he was going to smoke it with his friends but admitted that he was supplying it to his friend.

On March 5, attorneys for Armbrister and Davis told the appellate court justices that the sentences were "excessive and harsh."

Both attorneys argued that the sentences were disproportionate considering the amount of drugs involved.

Davis' attorney Murrio Ducille argued that the government's new law did not entirely remove a magistrate's discretion regarding the minimum sentence for the offence, as to do so would be unconstitutional.

He also said despite his client having two previous convictions, he should not be in prison and that a fine was more appropriate in the circumstances.

Jomo Campbell, Armbrister's attorney, contended that his client was a man of good character, having only one previous conviction for simple drug possession in 2001.

Deputy director of public prosecution Franklyn Williams said despite the circumstances, the men pleaded guilty to a grave offence.

In the end, the appellate court squashed the sentences. They however would not give an answer on what they felt was a fitting sentence for the duo and left it to the "sentencing court to determine what that is."

Today's proceedings takes place at 12.30pm in Court 8 of the new Magistrates Court complex on South and Nassau Streets.

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