Opinion: Appeal

POSTED: 05/7/12 1:12 PM

We have noted this before and the judges that sit on the bench in the Common Court of Justice usually indicate to defendants that appealing their sentence is not without risk. Rulings from the appeals court have a life of their own and there is no way of knowing how a trial turns out.

We had two examples at hand this week: the Romanian bookkeeper involved in last year’s Bada Bing robbery and a woman who set up her former employer for a kidnapping and subsequent robbery.

The bookkeeper, a diminutive 32-yearold blonde, maintained her innocence throughout the appeals hearing last month. If you didn’t know better, she was a victim who was scared to death when a guy dove through the window of her car pushing a gun in the face of the security guard that accompanied her with a $16,000 bank deposit.

But the judges did not buy her story. Instead, they declared that the statement the actual robber made to investigators is plausible. And that statement was clear: the bookkeeper had come up with the idea for the robbery, and she had involved a couple of others in her scheme. It remains of course weird that the man with the gun who took the money was released from pre-trail custody last year and subsequently deported to his native St. Kitts.

But for the three judges that was not an issue. They focused on the bookkeeper’s greed and on the shameless way she betrayed her employer’s trust. They also held it against her that she had put the life of the security guard in danger. The cream on the cake – at least, for the judges – was the bookkeeper’s attitude during the appeals hearing.

Nothing new there: too many defendants still think that as long as they deny the charges against them if will benefit their cause. In reality, the opposite is true, especially when there is a truckload of evidence against the defendant.

The judges concluded from the woman’s denials that she had absolutely no regrets about her actions and that she showed a complete lack of understanding for the fact that she had actually broken the law.

There are three judges on the bench in the appeals court and they seldom indicate how they vote on individual cases. There are four possibilities: 2:1 or 3:0 in favor of the defendant, and 2:1 and 3:0 against the defendant. Mentioning the vote in a ruling is unusual.

In the bookkeeper’s case, the judges made an exception, by stating that they had voted 3:0 against her. They considered the verdict from the lower court insufficient, and they therefore also disagreed with the solicitor-general who had asked them to confirm that verdict.

So instead of going home with a lighter sentence, the bookkeeper got a punishment she will remember. The Court in First Instance was indeed rather mild with a 30-month sentence, especially because it suspended 10-months of its verdict.

Under Minister Duncan’s regime, she would have had to serve all of those 20 months. But the appeals court gave the defendant a piece of its mind, so to speak, by sentencing her to 4 years, thereby increasing the punishment by an astonishing 140 percent.

An interesting detail of the ruling is that the bookkeeper was also sentenced to pay damages to Bada Bing. Those damages stand at approximately $18,000. The bookkeeper is held individually responsible for these damages. There are two other defendants in this case who will most likely face the same ruling.

Whether Bada Bing owner Jaap van den Heuvel will ever see that money is of course the big question. We would not count on it: the actual robber is in St. Kitts, and the bookkeeper is gonna be behind bars for the next four years. It is doubtful that she has any assets in St. Maarten. That leaves the third defendant, Jimmy Ramsahai, as the most likely target for a get-your-money-back guarantee, because he lives on the island. The individual responsibility for the damages works in a weird way: if one of the defendants pays them, the others are off the hook.

The woman who organized the kidnapping and robbery of her former employer had a different experience with the same court. The Court in First Instance had sentenced her to 6 years imprisonment, based on the thought that she had actually been party to two crimes: a kidnapping and a robbery. The appeals court ruled that the whole chain of events amounted to one crime: robbing the victim of his freedom was a prelude to the robbery that followed. Based on this technicality, the court lowered the woman’s sentence to 5 years.

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