Cannabis smuggler has jail sentence cut

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A woman jailed for importing cannabis has had sentence reduced by eight months — but the court refused a request to increase the sentence of a second woman for drugs offences.

Valisa Holder appealed against a 2½-year sentence imposed in Magistrates’ Court, while the Crown asked to have the 2½-year sentence given to Amanda Henry-Huggins increased.

Chief Justice Ian Kawaley found that Holder’s sentence was harsh and excessive and reduced it to 22 months in a judgment issued earlier this month.

But he quashed the Crown’s appeal against the sentence of Henry-Huggins and said it was in the range proposed by defence counsel and “tacitly conceded” by prosecutors at the time.

Henry-Huggins and Holder were arrested in separate incidents at LF Wade International Airport.

Holder was found with 1,101g of cannabis in September 2014.

Henry-Huggins was caught with 10,896g of the same drug last December.

Both pleaded not guilty but were convicted after trials and received the same sentence.

During an appearance before the Supreme Court last month, lawyer Auralee Cassidy argued that Holder’s sentence should have been between a year and 18 months.

He added that in his notes on sentencing, the magistrate singled out the extended trial as an aggravating factor.

Ms Cassidy said: “In this case, there were no aggravating factors. It gives an impression that she was punished for going to trial, but that’s wrong.”

She added that the Crown’s comments on sentencing mentioned an “uncertainty” about the value of the seized drugs and argued that the lowest value should be taken into account.

But Crown counsel Alan Richards said that the only “uncertainty” he could see in the court records was the usual difference between the estimated street value of the drugs and the wholesale value.

Mr Richards accepted that the magistrate would have been wrong if he had used Holder’s trial as an aggravating factor, but he said that the sentence was in the appropriate range.

In the case of Henry-Huggins, Mr Richards called for a higher sentence, arguing that the 2½-year sentence imposed was inadequate.

Supreme Court heard that during sentencing, defence lawyer Vaughn Caines had called for a sentence of three years, while the prosecution did not suggest a sentence length or oppose the one proposed by Mr Caines.

Mr Richards accepted that the submissions by the Crown were “not particularly detailed”, but said that Mr Caines’s suggestion would have been at the lower end of the sentencing scale.

Mr Caines said that the legal system in Bermuda was adversarial and questioned if it was right for the Crown to complain about a sentence after it failed to make a submission on the subject at the sentence stage.

Mr Justice Kawaley wrote in his rulings that the sentence of Holder was excessive when compared to that of Huggins and that the magistrate had failed to provide sufficient reasons to give her a sentence at the higher end of the proposed sentencing range.

He allowed the appeal and reduced her sentence by eight months. However, the judge dismissed the Crown appeal in the case of Henry-Huggins.

He said: “The Crown has demonstrated that the sentence imposed was manifestly inadequate in the sense that it was both unduly lenient and wrong in principle.

“However, because the sentence imposed was within a range which was proposed by defence counsel and tacitly conceded as appropriate by prosecution counsel at the sentencing hearing, a case for allowing the appeal and quashing the sentence imposed has not been made out.”

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