Desperate gypsy cab driver punished with conditional fine

POSTED: 04/7/11 11:54 AM

75-year old has 162-guilders pension

St. Maarten – The authorities have made hunting down gypsy cab drivers a priority, and 75-year-old Sylvan Thomas Roberts was the first one to find himself on the receiving end of that policy. The court in First Instance sentenced him yesterday to a conditional 500 guilders fine ($278) and ordered the release of his impounded car. The prosecution demanded a 750 guilders ($415) fine and confiscation of the car.

Police stopped Roberts on five different occasions – three times in February, and twice in March. Several passengers admitted to the police that they paid Roberts for his services. During one of these controls the police impounded the defendant’s car.

While Roberts initially called upon his right to remain silent after Judge Mr. M. Keppels read from his statement to the police, he relaxed later on and told the court about his situation.

To police officers, Roberts had stated, “Everybody knows me as a gypsy.” He refuted claims that his car was uninsured, saying he had renewed it.

“I receive a pension of 162 guilders ($90) a month. That is why I need to make some money. I asked for a permit quite some years ago but I never got a reply.”

Judge Keppels told the defendant that he had received five warnings. “And still you continue to take people in your car.”

The desperate defendant answered, “I don’t have the means to maintain myself. Nobody wants to employ me and my rent alone is $200. I also have to eat.”

During the last control, on March 5, Roberts was caught driving his son’s car, because his own vehicle had been impounded.

Prosecutor Mr. J.C.G. van der Wulp considered the charge – offering professional transport without a license – proven. “In ten days time you were stopped five times. Gypsy transport is a big problem and it is necessary to curb this activity. It is important that the defendant does not get his car back.”

Van der Wulp demanded a 750 guilders fine (a bit more than $415) and confiscation of the car.

Attorney Mr. J.J. Rogers asked the court to put the case in its proper perspective. “Gypsies are not competing with regular cab drivers. There are people who work in casinos for instance who are unable to catch a bus back home at two o’clock at night, and taxi drivers don’t want to go to places like Middle Region or Sucker Garden at that time. So out of sheer necessity they use the services of gypsy cab drivers.”

Rogers pointed out that his client receives a meager monthly pension and that he is forced to make some money on the side. “We realize that this is against the law but it is still better than burglarizing people’s homes.”

The attorney told the court that the matter needs to be addressed on the political level. “How does this man have to pay his bills, how will he be able to buy food?” he said. “I ask the court for some understanding. Taking away my clients car will limit his freedom of movement. And how on earth will he be able to pay such a fine. That is completely impossible.”

Judge Mr. M. Keppels took a short break to mull things over. “The charge is proven, but I needed some time to think about how to handle this,” she said upon her return to the courtroom. The Judge settled for a conditional 500 guilders fine, and she ordered that the car must be returned to the defendant.

“But you should not do this anymore,” she warned Roberts. “You have to seriously take into account the possibility that your car may be impounded if you are caught again.”


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