Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Editorial | Trampling Ms Dobson’s constitutional rights

Published:Tuesday | May 17, 2016 | 5:00 AM

Unlike Mario Deane, Donnasha Dobson is happily alive and presumably enjoying good health and personal freedom.

Yet, Ms Dobson's case, reported on in this newspaper week ago, is one to which the police chief, the justice and security ministers, and the Office of the Public Defender ought to have had under review - and should do, if they didn't - although the latter body might possibly claim that it falls outside its mandate.

An important context to this case, ironically, was highlighted last week in the significant public discussion over the proposed regulations to govern the cannabis industry following the legalisation of the industrial-scale growing of marijuana for medicinal and other products. The possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use and the smoking of the drug in public has been decriminalised.

These are matters that were on Jamaica's agenda for decades, but legislation towards their actual implementation was fast-tracked in the face of the Mario Deane affair in August 2014. Mr Deane was 31 - a construction worker on his way to his job when he was arrested for a small amount of ganja. He didn't make it out of the Montego Bay lock-up alive, after his family, for days, knew nothing of his whereabouts.

The police initially claimed that Mario Deane was beaten to death by two inmates, both of whom, quite unfortunately, or fortuitously, happened to suffer from physical and mental disabilities. Eventually, police personnel, too, were charged for his death.

The upshot from Mario Deane's murder was the policy that no one arrested for such dabs of ganja that he possessed should linger in lock-up. They should receive station bail. Thereafter followed the law that possession of up to two ounces of marijuana was a ticketable, rather than an arrestable, offence.

In January of this year, Ms Dobson, 27, was arrested on the compound of the Linstead police. She was initially accused of attempting to smuggle items to someone being detained there. She said she had gone about a job in a bar.

 

INCREDULOUS CHARGE

 

The fact, though, is that she was arrested and spent 21 days in jail before being brought to a parish court where she was bailed for J$6,000. The incredulous charge: possession of three ounces of marijuana, or just above the amount for which she should have been issued with a ticket to pay a fine at a tax office.

In any event, based on the policy, Ms Dobson should have spent no time in the lock-up; she should have received station bail, freed on her own recognisance. Instead, she was added to the overcrowding in Jamaica's clogged lock-ups, where, fortuitously, she didn't meet the fate of Mario Deane.

But Ms Dobson suffered a more fundamental wrong: a breach of her right, under Section 14 (a) (i) and (ii) of the Constitution, in the case of an arrest, "to be brought forthwith, or as soon as is reasonably practicable, before an officer authorised by law, or the court; and released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions to secure ... attendance at the trial or at any other stage of the proceedings".

Three weeks, in the circumstance, is hardly "forthwith" or "reasonably practicable" time. Ms Dobson deserves redress. Moreover, the impunity of the authorities implied in this case breeds disregard for law and order, undermines respect for the Jamaican State, and weakens its authority.