Fyzabad businessman loses gun appeal

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice of Appeal Maria Wilson

A Fyzabad businessman convicted of unlawful possession of a Glock and 15 rounds of nine millimetre ammunition after he pleaded guilty when he first appeared before a magistrate intends to further appeal his conviction.

Kevin Ramsaran on Friday lost his appeal before Justices of Appeal Alice Yorke-Soo Hon and Maria Wilson.

He had been sentenced to 18 month imprisonment with hard labour for the ammunition offence and 24 months with hard labour for the firearm offence by Magistrate Margaret Alert.

After dismissing his appeal, Ramnarine’s attorney Ernest Koylass asked the judges to consider granting his client bail pending a further appeal.

After some discussion between Koylass and deputy Director of Public Prosecutions George Busby, the judges agreed with the prosecutor that Ramnarine was a convicted person – in reference to an assertion by Koylass that bail can now be considered for persons charged with murder – and consideration for bail at appeal was different.

The judges ordered written submissions on the question of bail by March 10 and 17, and said they will give their decision soon after.

Until then, Ramnarine, who was at the Princes Town virtual access customer centre, will remain in custody.

Ramsaran was held by police on August 18, 2018, at Field Road, Bennet Village, Santa Flora. He was charged by PC Brandon John after officers found the firearm and ammunition under the floor mat of the driver’s seat of the car he was driving.

He did not have a firearm users’ licence and told the police, “Officer, that is mines (sic), people around my area does study get rob and we have business and that is to protect me and my family.”

When he appeared before Alert, two days after he was arrested, the charges were read to him and the police prosecution recommended a summary trial after which he was asked how he wanted to plead.

Koylass argued at the appeal that the conviction was erroneous in law since a specific illegality took place at the hearing as the magistrate did not receive Ramnarine’s election for summary trial nor did she receive a plea from him directly in breach of provisions of the Summary Courts Act.

He pointed to the certified typewritten transcript of the court proceedings which, he argued, did not state the mode of trial Ramnarine elected or any record of his client’s pleas to the two charges.

Busby argued the magistrate’s signed contemporaneous endorsement showed that the charges were read, Ramnarine elected summary trial and pleaded guilty.

Justice Alice Yorke-Soo Hon.

He also said it would be an affront to common sense that Ramnarine’s attorney at the magistrates’ court sat mute if his client had not selected summary trial or pleaded guilty but was being sentenced, especially since the attorney participated in the proceedings by advancing a plea in mitigation on his client’s behalf.

In their decision, the judges said it was trite that a plea of guilty would only be considered valid if it came directly from the mouth of an accused. In Ramnarine’s case, they pointed out, the record of appeal contained the verified transcript which showed the magistrate read each charge to him, took the prosecution’s recommendations and asked how he pleaded.

Although they acknowledged that absent from it was a record that the magistrate explained what a summary trial meant, his consent, and his plea, her endorsement showed all this took place at the hearing.

They also pointed to the sequence of events, based on the transcript, which showed after the prosecutor provided the facts of the case, Ramnarine agreed to them and then his attorney made his plea in mitigation and was even recorded saying, “Well, he went a little further and acquired this, My Lady. He very foolishly did something that he should not, but his intention was clearly not to use that to commit any kind of violence, other than to protect his family and himself”.

In their decision, the judges said, “We accept the magistrate’s certificate on the information was a true representation of what transpired at the hearing.

“Moreover, the appellant was represented by counsel and participated in the process. Although the transcript of the proceedings did not contain the appellant’s election as to the mode of trial or his plea of guilty, the entire record of the appeal had to be read as a whole to gain a full understanding of what transpired on the date at the magistrates’ court.”

“On both pieces of information (the document stating the charges), the magistrate specifically ascribed her signature to the stamp which confirmed that the appellant elected summary trial and pleaded guilty. This is conclusive evidence that the correct procedure was complied with. To doubt whether the magistrate’s certificate was actually true is a flagrant attack on the integrity of the court and its processes and undermines public’s trust and confidence in the criminal justice system,” the judges said in their decision.

They also said based on the sequence of events, Ramnarine’s attorney would not have made a plea in mitigation for his client if he did not plead guilty.

“In our view, the appellant cannot properly complain that he was denied the opportunity to elect his trial nor the opportunity to plea to the charges. Accordingly, we hold that there is no merit in this ground of appeal.”