Legal, procedural issues snag trial of Rajaee Ali and others

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Alleged gang leader Rajaee Ali. –

ALLEGED gang leader Rajaee Ali and nine others are nowhere close to going to trial on gang charges as there are outstanding issues of disclosure, representation and refusal of service by some of the men.

Only five of the ten appeared virtually before Magistrate Kerrianne Byer, as four others refused to come to court. A prison officer could not say why the four took that position.

One of the men is expected to advise the court on a new lawyer as his attorney was seeking leave to withdraw in order to pursue studies abroad, while two others are self-represented and will have to say if they will continue doing so.

Another accused, Devaughn Cummings is refusing to accept the service of a summons so he can be properly before the court.

In March, it was realised when the Appeal Court ruled in 2020 that the gang charges against them should be reinstated, they should have been ordered to appear in court via summons. Up until that time, the men were being brought to court by a “court note.”

This situation was rectified but Cummings is insisting as far as he is concerned, he has no matter before the court.

He said when the officer came to serve the summons, he was only told someone was at the prison to see him. He said he refused the visit since he was not told who was there. He also said he is seeking legal advice on what is taking place and until he gets that advice, he will not be waiving his right to proper service.

During Thursday’s sitting, Cummings had to be warned about his outbursts and was told he would be removed if he continued to disturb proceedings.

Byer said she had hoped they would be closer to setting a trial date, but advised she will not give directions until the State serves the four remaining statements, and the issue of representation is sorted out. She had hoped to set a trial date in December.

At the next hearing, she said she will possibly advise attorneys on the filing of defence statements after which trial dates are likely to be set.

Byer also reminded the men of their right to consider entering into plea agreements with the State.

“I am not encouraging you to do anything (I am) only reminding you that is an option.”

Ali quipped, “I cannot plead guilty for a gang if I didn’t have a gang.” The matter was adjourned to October 27.

THE ISSUESThe Appeal Court’s ruling in March 2020, came after it was asked to determine if a blunder by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, in laying the gang charges, resulted in a nullity.

The State applied to have the charges amended, but this was denied by then senior magistrate Indrani Cedeno in May 2016, after the DPP’s office admitted laying charges indictably, as opposed to summarily, as prescribed by the Anti-Gang Act.

In their decision, the Appeal Court judges said the charges were capable of an amendment and were not affected by the six-month limitation period set by statute.

The matter was sent back to a new magistrate and separated from a murder charge some in the group of accused men also face. Some of the men are also charged with the murder of attorney Dana Seetahal, SC, and have been committed to stand trial.

Those before the court are Rajaee Ali, Earl Richards, Leston Gonzales, Devaughn Cummings, Roget Boucher, Ricardo Stewart, Hamid Ali, Kevin Parkinson, Ishmael Ali and Deon Peters – the latter still being unaccounted for in order for the serving of the summons.

Another man, David Ector, was also on gang charges but he and Peters were freed since they were not charged with Seetahal’s murder. Ector was murdered in July 2018.

Representing the State is deputy DPP Tricia Hudlin-Cooper, while representing some of the men are attorneys Roshan Tota-Maharaj, Kirby Joseph, Keresse Khan and Kashief Gibson.