CLOSE to $1 million in compensation is to be paid by the State to a Tobago man because prison authorities did not allow him to appeal a five-year conviction after he was found guilty in 2010 of possession of marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

Colin Simmons was only able to have the appeal filed and his conviction quashed after serving the entirety of his sentence.

Justice Margaret Mohammed yesterday ordered that Simmons be awarded $.9 million for damages for the deprivation of his liberty while in custody, $60,000 in vindicatory damages and an additional $20,000 for breach of his constitutional rights.

Constitutional rights

In her 38-page ruling, Justice Mohammed said even if a person is convicted of a crime, they were still entitled to constitutional rights afforded to other citizens.

In this instance, Simmons was deprived of his right to file his appeal against conviction by prison officials.

Court documents stated he was forced to serve his entire prison sentence after being convicted of drug trafficking before he was allowed to file an appeal against conviction.

“In my opinion the failure of the Prison Service to take positive steps to ensure that there were adequate safeguards to prevent the arbitrary exercise of power by the prison officers, resulted in the claimant being deprived of the opportunity to file his Notice of Appeal within the prescribed statutory period.

“As a consequence of the Prison Service’s failure, the claimant’s right to protection of the law was breached by the careless and reckless actions of the prison officers and he was deprived of his liberty without due process,” said the judge.

Court documents stated that in June 2010 Simmons was sentenced to five years’ hard labour by then-senior magistrate Annette McKenzie for possession of the narcotics for the purpose of trafficking.

Following his sentence, he made repeated requests to prison officials to communicate with his girlfriend to have the appeal filed.

Those requests were denied.

Dignity and respect

Simmons had also sought to apply for an attorney from the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority for representation but was not provided with application forms and when they were actually provided, there were delays in dispatching his documents.

He eventually received Legal Aid representation but it took almost two years before his lawyers received records of his failed correspondence that were needed in order to apply to the Court of Appeal to retroactively extend the time for him to file his appeal.

The application was approved by the Court of Appeal in May 2015 and the court quashed his conviction and sentence in January 2016.

In her judgment, Justice Mohammed stated in her opinion, the conduct of the prisons officials was alarming and must be denounced in the strongest manner.

“Members of the Prison Service must treat all persons who have been convicted and sentenced with dignity, and respect their rights which have been enshrined in the Constitution,” she said.

Simmons was represented by Farai Hove-Masaisai and Issa Jones of Hove and Associates, while Keisha Proper and Laura Persad appeared on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General.