GANG charges will be amended and reinstated against those charged with the murder of former Independent senator Dana Seetahal, SC.
Appeal Court judges Alice Yorke-Soo Hon and Mark Mohammed on Tuesday set aside a magistrate’s order to dismiss the gang charges and ordered that they should be amended.
The matter will return to the magistrates’ court for a new magistrate to hear the evidence relating to the gang charges against the group of 14.
The judges were asked to determine if a blunder by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in laying the gang charges resulted in their nullity.
The appeal of senior magistrate Indrani Cedeno’s May 2016 decision was the result of her dismissing an application by the State to amend the gang charges against the 14 after the DPP’s Office admitted to laying the charges indictably (to be tried by judge and jury, or judge alone after a preliminary inquiry) as opposed to summarily (heard and determined by a magistrate) for first offenders, as prescribed by the Anti-Gang Act.
At the time, it was also argued that the DPP’s Office could not now re-lay the charges because the six-month window to do so had expired.
In their decision, the appellate court judges said the charges were capable of amendment and were not affected by the six-month limitation period set by statute.
Saying a substantial error had been committed, Yorke-Soo Hon held that it was capable of correction.
She said the proposed amendment did not intend to create a new set of offences but to bring the charge into the appropriate category. She said the 14 were all before the court on the charge of being gang members and were all aware of the essential and true nature of the charge. The error, she added, was curable and it was open to the magistrate to allow the amendment.
She also said the 14 would have suffered no prejudice, as argued, since the proposed amendment carried with it a lesser penalty of up to ten years’ imprisonment as opposed to a penalty twice as severe on conviction on indictment.
“Now they will have an opportunity to enter a plea and have the case determined expeditiously,” she said, also dismissing arguments that they will now be required to file a defence. She said they would have had to do so regardless of whether they were charged indictably or summarily.
The group was not brought to court for Tuesday’s decision because of security concerns. The matter was also not heard in the appeal court but in one of the courtrooms usually reserved for criminal cases on the first floor of the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain.
The 14 are: Rajaee Ali, Devaughn Cummings, Ishmael Ali, Ricardo Stewart, Earl Richards, Stephan Cummings, Gareth Wiseman, Hamid Ali, Kevin Parkinson, Leston Gonzales, Roget Boucher, Deo Peters, David Ector and Stacy Griffith.
Griffith is on bail. At the hearing of the appeal, the judges were told that Stephen Cummings had turned state witness against the others and Ector was killed in July 2018.
A warrant will have to be issued for Peters’ arrest since he and Ector, neither of whom was charged with Seetahal’s murder, were the only two who were allowed to walk free after Cedeno said the amendment could not be permitted, as she felt the accused would be prejudiced by it.
Rajaee Ali faces a charge of being a gang leader and his wife, Griffith, was charged with benefiting from the gang’s activity.
The 14 were all charged on July 25, 2015, with being members of a gang during the period March 14, 2014-July 24, 2015.
The State was represented by special prosecutor Travers Sinanan. Mario Merritt and Karunaa Bisramsingh appeared for the 14.
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