By FARRAH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Court of Appeal yesterday ordered that a woman who had been fined $3,000 for harbouring an illegal immigrant be reimbursed, after ruling the magistrate could not have found the charge against the appellant proved.
In July 2019, police and immigration officers visited the home of Jacintha Murat-Vesilor to check for illegal migrants. When officers searched the residence, they discovered a female hiding in a bedroom closet. Murat-Vesilor was subsequently arrested and later charged with harbouring an undocumented migrant. During her trial, a magistrate found her guilty of the offence and fined her $3,000, or in default of payment of the fine, two years in prison.
The appellant appealed the sentence after arguing the verdict handed down to her was “unreasonable” as it could not be supported by the evidence of the case.
Yesterday, Justices Sir Michael Barnett, Jon Isaacs and Roy Jones quashed Murat-Vesilor’s conviction, after concluding the magistrate’s decision to convict the appellant could not be “sustained”.
According to a judgment posted on the Crown’s website, when officers found the woman hiding in Murat-Vesilor’s closet, she was in the front room of the residence, some 20 to 30 feet away.
“Officer Bonaby questioned the female, not in the presence of the appellant, and the female told the officer that she was a Haitian national who had come to the country by boat in January 2019,” according to the court documents.
“The female was then taken to where the appellant was; and I/O Bonaby questioned the appellant about the female. The appellant responded that the female had come to her home two days earlier and she was helping the female because the appellant’s sister had asked her to do so.”
According to the judgment, Murat-Vesilor told officers she knew the woman was in her home, but said she did not know her immigration status. It was also reported that no evidence of the migrant’s status was taken from any witness during the trial, other than the testimony of Officer Bonaby.
The panel’s ruling, delivered by Justice Isaacs, noted that the offence with which Murat-Vesilor was charged, comprised several factors that had to be disclosed in the prosecution’s case.
“For example, the person being harboured had to be an ‘illegal person’ and for that to be established, the prosecution had to demonstrate that the female entered The Bahamas from a place outside The Bahamas, that such entry was without the leave of an immigration officer or elsewhere than at an authorised port, or at such other place as an immigration officer may in any particular case allow,” he stated.
“No such evidence was led. In his judgment, the senior magistrate referenced the female as ‘the illegal’, and it appears that he approached the case on the basis that the female was an ‘illegal person’ but without ascertaining whether or not she fell to be considered as such a person under the Act bearing in mind the evidence that had been adduced by the prosecution.”
Justice Isaacs said if the magistrate had addressed that issue first, he would not have concluded that the woman was an “illegal person”.
“In the absence of such a conclusion,” he said, “he could not have proceeded to find the charge against the appellant proved so as to provide the basis on which to convict her.
“We are satisfied that for the reasons expressed earlier in our judgment, the decision of the senior magistrate to convict the appellant cannot be sustained. We quash the conviction and set aside the sentence imposed on the appellant. The fine of $3,000, having already been paid by the appellant, is to be returned to her.”