BROOKLYN,NY – A magistrate has sentenced a 32-year-old Venezuelan national to 12 months in jail after he pleaded guilty to illegally entering the island and escaping isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Magistrate Michael Laudat imposed the sentence on Brauny Ramon Rojas, who was arrested at a guesthouse on June 23 after failing to produce evidence that he had legally entered Dominica.
Rojas was taken to the government quarantine facility at Portsmouth, north of here, and a day later was formally charged with illegal entry into the island.
The court heard that Rojas had informed the arresting police officers that he had come to Dominica searching for employment.
On June 30, the staff at the quarantine facility informed police that Rojas tested positive for the virus but escaped on July 1 from the St. James COVID-19 Isolation Centre, where he had been transferred to.
Police later found him in a wooden shed and returned him to the isolation facility.
During his first court appearance on July 134, the Venezuelan apologized to Magistrate Laudat for his actions but pleaded with the court not to impose a jail sentence. He said he has a disability, and he has four children.
Rojas told the court that while he was searching for a better life, had he been informed that Dominica is so “poor” and illegal entry was not permitted, he would stay away.
However, the magistrate said that he would divert from the sentencing guidelines set out by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court since the actions of Rojas placed the lives of others at risk and adjourned the sentencing to a later date.
When the matter resumed last weekend, attorney Wayne Norde urged the court to “temper justice with mercy,” adding that Rojas had fallen on difficult times in Venezuela and saw his family going without food for days.
“He constantly remembered his two-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, pleading 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.”
But Magistrate Laudat said that the actions of the Venezuelan were “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”.
The magistrate said while he understood the human aspect in that Venezuela is going through difficult times, he pointed out that he must weigh which situation is greater as one who must dispense justice.
Both offenses carry a maximum penalty of $10,000 (One EC dollar=US 0.37 cents) or one year in prison.
The magistrate imposed a fine of EC$3,500 for both charges to be paid forthwith. In default, he said Rojas would be imprisoned for six months for each offense to run consecutively. Rojas was unable to pay the fine.