The Malta Independent 20 March 2018, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Drug trafficking sentence - Courts have to act within parameters of the law

Wednesday, 13 December 2017, 11:15 Last update: about 4 months ago

The courts were at the receiving end of a barrage of criticism this week after reformed drug addict and trafficker William Agius was sentenced to three years behind bars.

Most of that criticism was unfair.

The fact that the man had reformed does not mean that the crime should be forgotten and unpunished. After all, this was a very serious crime. Agius was caught with over 2,000 ecstasy pills in 2004, which is no small amount of drugs.

While it is understandable that people feel sorry for Agius, as do we, especially since the sentence was meted out just two weeks before Christmas 13 years after the crime was committed, we feel that the courts could not have acted any other way.

In a civilized society justice must be done, and laws have to be observed. There are consequences to one’s actions, even if that person goes through a transformation in the meantime. With that same reasoning, a killer-turned-missionary would also have to be set free.

The courts apply the law as it is written in the Criminal Code – they have to act within certain parameters, and letting someone walk free because of public sentiment, especially when that someone admits to the charges brought before them, is simply not an option.

Imagine the dangerous precedent that would have been set by the courts should they have acquitted the man. Or the precedent that would be set should the President answer the call of a new online petition and pardon Agius, overruling the courts. Imagine the consequences.

One must also take into account the fact that Agius’ sentence was very lenient. The amount of drugs found in his possession would usually land someone a prison sentence of between 9 and 12 years, but William got three years. And he could be paroled after serving just sixteen months of that sentence.

William Agius was unfortunate in that he was caught with the drugs near a school but this happened on a Saturday, when school is out. Unfortunately the law does not make a distinction between a school day and the weekend. This is one of the changes that ought to take place.

But until the law states otherwise, the courts have no option but to act within the parameters set by that same law. People cannot expect our judges and magistrates to simply acquit someone based on mercy or the outcry caused by a TV talk show. 

There is no doubt that the issue was highly sensationalized after Agius appeared on a particular TV programme. Many people were left aghast upon learning that this young man who is so full of promise was likely to end up behind bars despite being clean for more than a decade.

But this was not Agius’ first time in the media. Back when he was caught with the drugs in 2004 the media reported that this was one of the biggest ever drug hauls in Malta’s history.

Some commentators also blasted the courts for ‘waiting 13 years to hear William’s case.’ This is also factually incorrect. As Justice Minister Owen Bonnici states in today’s back page opinion, the case could have started in 2010 but was delayed after Agius launched legal proceedings. The courts had no option but to wait until those proceedings were exhausted.

Once again, it is unfortunate that this young man had to be jailed after so many years but this was not entirely the court’s fault.

The real tragedy here is that Agius, who managed to kick his drug habit all those years ago, now finds himself in a place where drugs abound.

One hopes that he remains strong and comes out of that dreadful place an even better person than he has already become.



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