Sentence upheld for fentanyl smuggler

The Supreme Court has upheld a suspended sentence for a woman who smuggled a powerful painkiller into Bermuda.

Mandaya Thomas was convicted of bringing 92 grams of acetyl fentanyl, a synthetic drug stronger than morphine, into Bermuda in March 2018.

Puisne Judge Shade Subair Williams had heard the drugs had a street value of up to $270,480.

Thomas, from Pembroke, was sentenced to 4½ years in prison for the offence, but magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo suspended four years of the sentence for two years.

Prosecutors appealed the decision on the basis that the suspended sentence was inadequate.

Jaleesa Simons, for the Crown, argued in the Supreme Court in November that penalties for fentanyl should attract a similar starting sentence to that of heroin. She added that Mr Tokunbo had allowed the “novelty” of the drug to be a mitigating factor when he passed sentence.

Mrs Justice Subair Williams said in a decision released on January 7 that a starting sentence of between five and eight years would have been appropriate in Magistrates’ Court.

She added: “I would consider a 4½ year term to be an appropriate basic sentence. This is a very modest shortfall of what the Crown sought.”

Mrs Justice Subair Williams also found that Mr Tokunbo acted within his powers to suspend most of the sentence.

She said: “If anything, it might be said that he erred on the side of caution by characterising the reasons for suspending the respondent’s sentence as ‘exceptional’.

“I accept that the passage of time which lapsed between the date of the offence and the sentence hearing, in addition to her more recent personal developments, which included the birth of a new baby and a serious road traffic accident, were all proper considerations for the magistrate to have, in regard to deciding whether to suspend the sentence.”

She added that the “newness” of the drug may have given weight to Thomas’s claim she did not know the harm that it could cause.

Mrs Justice Subair said: “The magistrate was entitled to consider this point as part of the ‘good reason’ test he rightly applied.

“For this reason, I do not think it right to interfere with the learned magistrate’s exercise of discretion in allowing the suspension of four years of the sentence for two years.”

Acetyl fentanyl is an opioid similar to fentanyl, which is 15 times more powerful than morphine.

It has never been licensed for medical use in any country, but has been sold illegally as a heroin substitute and been linked to hundreds of deaths in Europe and the United States.

It is The Royal Gazette’s policy not to allow comments on stories regarding criminal court cases. This is to prevent any statements being published that may jeopardise the outcome of that case.

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