By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A WOMAN has failed in trying to get the appellate court to overturn her two-year sentence for stealing over $100,000 worth of watches from her employer, a high-end jewellery store on Paradise Island.
Appellate President Sir Hartman Longley and fellow Justice Roy Jones affirmed Chandani Sawyer’s sentence for stealing $120,425 worth of watches from Carlo Milano at Paradise Island in May 2012.
Sir Michael Barnett dissented, asserting he would have commuted Sawyer’s sentence to a $30,000 fine to “compensate” her for being sentenced seven years after the incident in breach of her constitutional rights.
Sir Michael said he would have ordered Sawyer to serve a six-month sentence in default of the fine. He also said he would have stipulated Carlo Milano would be free to seek a “civil remedy” to recover the value of the watches.
And as the six-year limitation period imposed by the law would bar such a claim, Sir Michael said he would have required Sawyer to undertake not to plead any limitation defence if Carlo Milano brought legal action against her within one year of the present judgement.
According to the ruling, on May 26, 2012, several watches were discovered missing from the Carlo Milano store after Sawyer went into the showcase to clean it. According to the evidence, the store’s inventory was accounted for as there were no sales the day prior.
The store’s manager, Glenda Tucker, viewed the surveillance images for that day and said she was able to see Sawyer placing a hand towel over the watches and removing them.
While the store’s owner said four Corum watches were stolen, Ms Tucker said three Corum watches were missing valued at $20,000; $22,000; and $32,000 respectively.
Sawyer was charged in the Magistrates Court on June 13 of that year with stealing by reason of employment.
According to the ruling, there were various adjournments in that court from the initial arraignment up to April 4, 2013 that were based on Sawyer’s unavailability in some instances, and the absence of counsel on both sides in others. Between April 4, 2013 and August 6, 2014, the adjournments appeared to be mainly as a result of Crown issues.
Sawyer was discharged two years later on August 6, 2014. However, 27 days later on September 2 of that year, she was re-arraigned before a different magistrate on the same facts she had been discharged of less than a month prior.
On that date, Sawyer was absent as she was overseas for medical reasons. On the adjourned date, September 26, 2014, a warrant was issued for her absence. The warrant remained outstanding until March 29, 2016 when she was brought to court, arraigned and granted bail with conditions.
After a trial, Sawyer was convicted on October 5, 2017. She was sentenced to two years at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS). No restitution of the watches or compensation to owners was made.
Sawyer subsequently filed an appeal some 12 days later against her conviction and sentence on six grounds, chief of which was the assertion that the delay in her being tried was a breach of her constitutional rights.
Due to the late filing, she had to seek leave to file an appeal against conviction and sentence.
Sawyer, via her attorney Judith Smith, argued that the pre-trial period was unreasonable, presumptively prejudicial and effectively an abuse of process.
According to the ruling, the period August 6, 2014 to March 29, 2016 (the date of the second arraignment) represents 19 months between the dismissal of the first set of charges and the second arraignment, and 46 months from her initial arrest.
Ms Smith contended that her client was not responsible for those delays as she was always available and employed at establishments that were visible to the public. Additionally, it was submitted that Sawyer was prejudiced by the delay as she could not find her witnesses for her defence.
Sawyer also contended that those delays breached her rights under Article 20 of the Constitution.
However, Sir Hartman and Justice Jones said having “carefully examined” the evidence against her and the circumstances surrounding the delay in starting the trial, there was no abuse of process that affected the safety and fairness of her conviction.
The two appellate judges also said that Sawyer “cannot now complain” about the delay when, at trial, she “failed” to make an application to stay the proceedings on the ground of delays before the magistrate. And the magistrate, the appellate judges said, had “the power to deal with the issue by staying the proceedings, adjusting the sentence or otherwise.”
As to Sawyer’s assertion that her two-year sentence was too harsh, Sir Hartman and Justice Jones noted that no restitution of the watches or compensation order was made. Thus, notwithstanding her “modest” position in the store (she was not a manager or senior employee with a high degree of trust), the two judges said as the matter is a “breach of trust case, in which deterrence is important,” her sentenced cannot be said to be unduly harsh.
As a result, the two appellate judges refused to extend time in which to allow Sawyer to file her appeal, thus affirming her conviction and sentence.