By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A HAITIAN woman who was reportedly in the country illegally has had her bid to contest her four year sentence for possession of a firearm dismissed after the Court of Appeal found her excuse that she wasn't aware she could appeal her sentence "unsatisfactory".
Former appellate president Dame Anita Allen, with fellow Justices Jon Isaacs and Stella Crane-Scott, dismissed Celicia Belton's application for an extension of time to appeal her August 2013 conviction and sentence, which she appealed two years later because she was "ignorant of the fact that she could appeal".
The appellate judges further found that "untenable" excuse to be "at odds" with the other excuse Belton gave as to the delay, that officers at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS) did not provide her with the necessary appeal documents in a timely manner.
Nonetheless, the judges said a read of Belton's grounds of appeal "readily disclosed their lack of merit", and further said it it was "unlikely" her appeal would succeed because her sentence was not outside the sentencing range mandated by Parliament and neither was it "so grossly disproportionate" that it would "induce a sense of outrage" amongst the Bahamian public.
According to the ruling, sometime around 12:45pm on August 19, 2013, while at Marsh Harbour, Abaco, police armed with a search warrant went to Belton’s residence to conduct a search relative to a firearm and ammunition. Belton, along with a man named Germain Dumercie, were at home at the time.
The officers showed Belton the search warrant and explained to her their reason for being there. While conducting a search of the residence in Belton's presence, officers recovered a .380 pistol in the sofa in the front room.
Belton was arrested, cautioned and taken to the police station with Dumercie. When questioned at the station Belton denied knowledge of the pistol. She and Dumercie were subsequently charged before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt.
During the arraignment Belton pleaded guilty to the charge, while Dumercie pleaded not guilty. The Chief Magistrate heard the facts and the plea in mitigation and subsequently sentenced Belton to four years imprisonment because, based on the summary of the Crown's case, she found that Belton should have the minimum amount of prison time mandated by statute.
Dumercie was apparently convicted and sentenced on October 22, 2014, three weeks before the repeal of mandatory sentences. Belton had complained in her notice of appeal that Dumercia was imprisoned for two years.
Nonetheless, as Belton was sentenced on August 21, 2013, she should have appealed by at least the 30th of that month, according to the ruling. However, she appealed in June 2015, making for a delay of approximately 23 months. She later filed another notice of appeal on March 31, 2016, containing four grounds.
Belton tried to explain the reason for her delay in her notice of appeal by claiming ignorance of the fact she could appeal. However, the transcript for the sentencing date revealed that after sentencing her, Chief Magistrate Ferguson-Pratt said: "I also advise you that you have a right to appeal my decision to the Court of Appeal".
During the hearing of the extension of time application, her attorney Glendon Rolle advised the Court that his client knew of her right to appeal but that officials at the BDCS did not provide her with the appeal documents in a timely manner.
However, the appellate judges found that excuse to be "untenable" and said it was "at odds with the reason proffered by the appellant in her notice of appeal".
"Thus, we were not satisfied that any good reason has been given for the delay," the ruling said. "Yet, even this factor alone did not determine the appellant's application".
According to the ruling, it was Mr Rolle's view that Belton's appeal stood a "good chance of success", encouraged by the "comparatively light sentence" imposed on Dumercie and the particulars of five other cases.
However, the appellate judges said: "In the circumstances, we were constrained to find that the Court would not be likely to overturn the appellant's sentence because it was not outside the bounds of the sentencing range mandated by Parliament; nor was it "so grossly disproportionate as to induce a sense of outrage in the minds of the Bahamian public, a condition that must be present for the Court to find the range unconstitutional".
"It was for these reasons that we dismissed the appellant's application for an extension of time to appeal out of time," the ruling said.
Justice Crane-Scott, in her disposition, said she initially "harboured reservations" on his colleagues' "unfavorable opinion" of Belton's grounds of appeal and its prospects of success.
However, upon "fuller consideration" of the matter, she said she was "firmly of the view" that her "initial misgivings were misplaced", and that Belton's prospects of success were not good.
"In the premises, I too agree that the application for an extension of time within which to appeal was properly dismissed".