Thursday, July 25, 2013

From Prison to Hyatt: Freed after 22 years

HEADING FOR THE HYATT: John Kalicharan leaves the Frederick Street,
Port of Spain prison yesterday after a High Court judge quashed a
40-year sentence imposed on him in 1989 on four counts of armed robbery.
 —Photo taken from a Photo of CURTIS CHASE
FROM a hell hole to the Hyatt.
For the first time in 22 years, John Kalicharan was able to see the outside world after a High Court judge yesterday quashed a 40-year prison term imposed on him in 1989 on four counts of armed robbery.

In celebration of his new-found freedom, Kalicharan’s friends and family booked a room at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Port of Spain, minutes after Justice Joan Charles freed him at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain.

In her oral ruling, Justice Charles said the sentence imposed on Kalicharan “was not known in law.”
In addition to the 40-year prison term, Kalicharan had been ordered to receive 30 strokes with the birch — 20 of which he received while behind prison walls. 

Kalicharan, 51, had filed a constitutional motion at the High Court challenging the sentence as he sought an order to have it vacated. He also stated that his rights had been infringed.

The application said that in 1989, he appeared before a judge at the High Court on four counts of armed robbery. His defence was that at the time of the robberies, he was in custody at a police station along with four other men and as such, could not have carried out the offences.

Kalicharan gave the court the names of the four men with whom he was in custody at the police station and requested that they be summoned to come to court and give evidence on his behalf.
He had also asked for extracts from the diary at the police station to be produced in order to prove he was in fact in police custody at the time of the robbery.

However, the trial judge refused the request and proceeded with the trial before finding him guilty and passing sentence.

The day following the imposition of the sentence, Kalicharan filed for an appeal of the judge’s sentence, but approximately one month later, a prison officer informed Kalicharan his notice of appeal could not be located.

The officer Kalicharan said, brought him another “appeal document” to sign. Being unable to read and write, Kalicharan said he signed the form, only to learn at a later date that he “was tricked” as with him placing his signature on the form provided by the officer, he had agreed to withdraw the appeal.

Kalicharan had also stated that while in prison, he was illegally made to serve three years on Death Row.
In hearing the constitutional motion, the State had argued that if Kalicharan had in fact been tricked into withdrawing his appeal the Appeal Court could have it reinstated.

In her ruling, Justice Charles said the sentence imposed on Kalicharan was well in excess of the sentence that should have been handed down.

She said the law only allowed for a person to be ordered to receive a maximum of 20 strokes with the birch.
The four charges which were brought against Kalicharan she said, all arose out of one incident. She said that the four ten-year sentences should have been made to run concurrently instead of consecutively.

Charles added that if the Court of Appeal reinstated Kalicharan’s appeal after 22 years, it would have been unfair to him as witnesses in the matter may not be able to recall some of the evidence based on the length of time that had elapsed and that the appeal records of the proceedings may not be available.

Also, police officers were only required to keep station diary extracts relating to any given case until the determination of such cases. This case she said had been determined 22 years ago, and as such, it was highly unlikely those extracts would be available for Kalicharan to use in his defence.

The judge said, the most could be done if the matter was reinstated at the Appeal Court, was that the court would only be able to sentence Kalicharan to fewer years in prison than the initial sentence — years that he has already served.

With the announcement she was ruling in his favour, Kalicharan, who was seated in the prisoner’s dock, placed his palms over his face and wept.

Damages to be awarded to Kalicharan will be determined by a Master in Chambers at a later date.
Following the ruling, Kalicharan was taken back to the Port of Spain prison in an Amalgamated Security Services bus in order “to collect some documents.”

At 4.30 p.m. he emerged from the prison where he was greeted by loved ones. Initially, Kalicharan had refused to speak with members of the media, but briefly stated later that he was an artiste and a calypsonian.
“So my plan right now is to pursue my calypso and soca career in a serious way, you know? My plan is to just get my life back together again,” he said.


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