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'Protect first-time offenders' - Appeal Court overturns landlord’s 20-day prison sentence

Published:Sunday | May 22, 2016 | 5:00 AMBarbara Gayle
The Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre: The Court of Appeal has laid down guidelines to protect first offenders from being sent there for some offences.

A landlord who broke the law and forced a delinquent tenant out of his property has not only received sympathy from other landlords, but also from the Court of Appeal which overturned a 20-day prison sentence imposed on him.

The Court of Appeal has laid down guidelines to protect first offenders from being sent to prison for some offences.

One of the guidelines states that when a judge is considering an immediate term of imprisonment for a self-represented, first-time offender, it is desirable that the judge should give consideration to the assignment of a legal-aid counsel if the offender cannot afford his own legal representation to assist with a plea of mitigation.

The Court said the assistance of a lawyer is for the offender's case in mitigation to be presented in the best possible light and for all possible alternatives to imprisonment to be explored.

The appellant was 41-year-old Dwayne Strachan, who is the father of two young children.

"He still has not come to grips with why he was sent to prison," said attorney-at-law Leroy Equiano, who represented Strachan on appeal.

HAPPYBUTTRAUMATISED

He said his client is happy with the outcome of the appeal "but is still traumatised by his experience in custody. Equiano said the incident had also traumatised Strachan's children who were left in the care of a neighbour when he went to court.

Strachan was sentenced immediately after he pleaded guilty to breaching the Rent Restriction Act.

Equiano regards the ruling in the appeal last week as very important and added, "we treat incarceration very slightly and it should only be in circumstances where no other appropriate method of punishment."

Fellow attorney-at-law Leonard Green argued that it is the duty of the court to protect an undefended person.

According to Green, where the statute expressly states that a custodial sentence ought to be imposed, then the judge should so advise the offender before accepting the guilty plea.