Covid-19 infected Venezuelan who escaped isolation imprisoned for failure to pay a court fine
A 32-year-old Venezuelan man is now serving a 12-month prison sentence following his failure to pay a court-imposed fine.
Brauny Ramon Rojas pleaded guilty to illegal entry and escaping isolation whilst infected with Covid-19.
Rojas who was charged for the two offenses first appeared before Magistrate Michael Laudat on July 13, 2021, but after several adjournments whilst the defendant sought counsel, he was sentenced on July 19.
According to the facts of the case, on June 23, 2021, at about 4:30 p.m., Constable Delroy Jno Charles along with other police officers and customs officers were on a border patrol in Calibishie when the police officer received certain information. They immediately proceeded to OM's Ocean View Guesthouse.
On arrival at the guesthouse, Constable Jno Charles met with the owner and had a conversation with her, and went to a room which was occupied by a Spanish man. Constable Jno Charles knocked on the door, identified himself as a police officer, and entered. He then saw the Rojas and informed him that he had reason to believe he entered Dominica illegally and he would like to see his passport.
Upon inspection of a passport found in the room, the officer realised there was no stamp indicating that Rojas had entered Dominica at a legal port of entry.
Rojas was transported to the Government Quarantine Facility at Portsmouth.
On June 24, with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter Constable Jno Charles informed the defendant that he was arresting him on suspicion for illegal entry and cautioned him. Rojas replied, "I came looking for help and in search of work".
Days later –June 30– staff members of the Government Quarantine Facility at Picard Portsmouth, informed the Constable that Rojas tested positive for Covid-19 and he was transported to the St. James Covid-19 Isolation Centre at Portsmouth.
On July 1, Police officers were alerted that Rojas had escaped from isolation. A search was conducted of the facility and surrounding area but the defendant was not found.
The following day acting on certain information, officers went on duty at Savanne Paille where Rojas was found in a wooden shed. He was transported back to the St. James facility.
On July 10, the defendant was discharged from the Covid-19 centre and was transported to the Roseau Police Station where an interview was later conducted with him, and on July 12, the charges were preferred against him.
At Rojas's first court appearance on July 13, he apologised to Magistrate Laudat for his actions but pleaded with the court not to impose a jail sentence as he said he suffers from a disability and he has four children to take care of.
Rojas said, though he was in search of a better life, had someone informed him that Dominica was so "poor" and illegal entry was not permitted he would have never come.
Unimpressed, Magistrate Laudat informed the defendant that he would divert from the sentencing guidelines set out by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court as his actions placed the lives of others at risk. The sentence was adjourned to July 15 but on that date, Rojas requested an attorney, hence the court granted his request and the matter was further adjourned.
On July 19, Attorney-at-Law Wayne Norde appeared on behalf of the Rojas and pleaded with the court to "temper justice with mercy."
He informed the court that the father of four had fallen on difficult times in Venezuela and saw his family going without food for days.
"He constantly remembered his 2-year-old daughter crying from hunger and his only solution to help his family was to leave Venezuela and come to Dominica for work."
Norde said Rojas was very remorseful for his actions and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity not wasting the court's time, asking for a non-custodial sentence.
"We understand aggravating factors are great especially the fact that he escaped isolation whilst having Covid but we ask the court to consider the mitigating factors and come to a just and fair sentence for the defendant. He is now at your mercy, Your Honour, and begs for your leniency."
In handing down his sentence, Magistrate Laudat reprimanded the Venezuelan for his actions.
"What you did was wrong and so grave that you placed the lives of Dominicans in danger. People could have died from your actions. I'm diverting from the sentencing guidelines for one reason only, your action went against the public interest and placed them in jeopardy."
Though Magistrate Laudat stated he understands the human aspect in that Venezuela is going through difficult times, but as one who must dispense justice, he said he must weigh which situation is greater.
Both offenses carry a maximum penalty of $10,000 or one year in prison.
Magistrate Laudat imposed a fine of $3,500 for both charges to be paid forthwith. In default, he said Rojas will be imprisoned for 6 six months for each offense to run consecutively.
Rojas was unable to pay the fine hence he is imprisoned for the next 12 months.
The prosecution also made an application to have Rojas removed from Dominica after serving his sentence however Magistrate Laudat said, based on a recent order by the ECSC this is not a function of the Magistrate but Immigration authorities.