By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOUR Americans escaped lengthy prison sentences yesterday when they were fined a combined $1,500 for admitting to simple possession of dangerous drugs in three separate incidents.
Drug Court Magistrate Andrew Forbes, who ordered the fines to be paid by no later than 5pm, chastised the cruise passengers who admitted to knowing, before their arrest over the weekend, that possessing marijuana in the Bahamas was illegal. He said they could have faced up to seven years in Her Majesty’s Prison.
Jacquis Armstrong, 22, of Statesboro, Georgia, and Christopher Williams 25, of Dublin, Georgia, were arraigned first before the magistrate on the simple possession charge.
On Saturday, around 1:25pm, police officers were patrolling the Prince George Wharf where they observed Armstrong and Williams exchanging objects between themselves.
The officers approached the pair and informed them of the suspicion that they were in possession of illegal drugs. Upon searching the two, officers found a package containing marijuana.
They were cautioned, arrested and taken to the Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU)where they were interviewed and subsequently charged.
Police prosecutor ASP Ercell Dorsett told the magistrate that the drugs weighed one gram. He added that they had no prior brushes with the law in the Bahamas jurisdiction.
Armstrong remained silent when asked if he knew that marijuana was illegal in the Bahamas, but Williams told Magistrate Forbes “it’s everywhere.”
“They were smoking. I didn’t even pay for the drugs,” Williams added.
“The fact that you see people smoking it doesn’t mean it’s legal,” the magistrate told the co-defendant, adding “by your logic, if I jump off a cruise into the Atlantic Ocean, you will jump too?”
“No, sir,” Williams replied.
He said they could have faced a custodial sentence of up to seven years, “unlike Georgia, where it’ll be a misdemeanour with a fine.”
Magistrate Forbes fined each man $300, noting that their alternative was a month’s imprisonment.
“The fine is to be paid today. Once it’s paid, the Department of Immigration will ensure your return to the United States,” the magistrate added.
A person found with more than one package and/or more than three ounces of an illegal substance, as the current law states, is usually charged with possession of dangerous drugs with intent to supply, which carries between four and seven years in jail.
However, the lesser charge can be applied on a discretionary basis if the accused states the drugs were for personal consumption.
Jason Reyes, 25, of Miami, Florida, was fined $400 and faced two months in jail because he was found in possession of three grams of marijuana while on board the Majesty of the Seas cruise ship on Sunday.
“I wasn’t planning on bringing it off the ship,” Reyes explained, adding that the drugs were given to him on the ship. “I was on the boat with my girlfriend. We were having a good time and was approached by someone who asked if I wanted some weed,” the Miami-native said.
“In any event Mr Reyes, drugs in the Bahamas are illegal for the most part,” the magistrate told the defendant. “You don’t want to be spoiling your vacation and holidays sitting in a prison cell for seven years. Before travelling to any destination, Google it and find out the laws first.”
Frank Sangineto, a 22-year-old also from Miami, pleaded guilty to hiding 12 marijuana joints in a metal can in his cabin aboard the Norwegian Sky cruise ship.
Around 8am on Saturday, the chief of security of the cruise line led Central Police Station officers to cabin 4217, where they informed Sangineto of their suspicions that there were drugs.
After a scan of the room, officers discovered the 12 joints before cautioning and arresting the defendant and taking him to the DEU where he was interviewed and charged.
“Where did you get the drugs?” the magistrate asked.
“Miami, Florida,” the defendant answered.
“You brought them from Miami and then you smoked them in your cabin?” the magistrate further probed.
“Once,” said Sangineto.
“How is it you were able to get the drugs past security at the port in Miami?” Magistrate Forbes asked in disbelief.
“It was in my bag and it went through the scanner,” the 22-year-old said.
Though he expressed disbelief that this was the case, Magistrate Forbes told Sangineto he would serve two months in jail if he did not pay a $500 fine.