18-year-old denies grievously injuring police officer, drugs charges

An 18-year-old man from Qormi has denied causing grievous injuries to a police officer and slightly injuring another when he was arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking

An 18-year-old man from Qormi has denied causing grievous injuries to a police officer and slightly injuring another when he was arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking. 

Ransdon Debono pleaded not guilty as he appeared in the dock before magistrate Monica Vella on Wednesday morning, accused of supplying cocaine and heroin and possession of cannabis resin within 100 metres from a place where youths normally gather.

Debono also faces charges of supplying cocaine and heroin and possession of the drugs in circumstances that denoted that they were not intended for his personal use. He was also accused of possession of cannabis resin. 

Several other charges were also pressed, including violently resisting arrest, grievously injuring a police constable and causing slight injuries to another as well as threatening them in the course of their duties, disobeying lawful police orders, driving without a licence or insurance, disobeying police orders to stop, dangerous driving and carrying a knife in public without a permit. He is also facing charges of breaching probation orders and recidivism.

Inspector Christabelle Chetcuti, prosecuting, told the court that substances suspected to be drugs had been found in the man’s possession and that he had resisted arrest. Another individual was arrested with the accused and later released.

In a statement issued by the police yesterday, it was announced that Birkirkara District Police together with officers from the Rapid Intervention Unit had arrested two youths who were found in possession of drugs, in circumstances indicating it was to be trafficked.

The Police had been informed that two persons had scaled a convent gate in Birkirkara. They had tried to escape in a car after the police arrived, leading the officers on a car chase, before they were stopped and arrested in Santa Venera.

One of the youths had resisted his arrest, injuring two officers.

30 packets containing six grams of cocaine and 18 packets containing five grams of heroin were found on his person, together with three grams of cannabis resin, she said.

The inspector reported that the accused had not answered any questions during interrogation, except when asked about his resisting arrest. One officer had suffered grievous injuries and another was slightly injured, she said.

A medical expert appointed by the inquiring magistrate had certified the accused as having suffered slight injuries. 

During his arraignment, the accused refused to answer when asked whether he was gainfully employed. 

He pleaded not guilty to the charges. His lawyer, Franco Debono, asked the court to grant bail, pointing to the young age of the accused and the possibility of him having a drug abuse problem. The amounts weren’t large, said the lawyer, suggesting bail supervision.

“His criminal record is not alarming and he is ready to submit to strict bail conditions,” said the lawyer, adding that the evidence had already been gathered by the inquiry.

Inspector Chetcuti objected to bail, rebutting the assertion that his criminal past was not a matter of concern, saying that it was  “immensely alarming” that an 18-year-old man already had several previous convictions. “He was put on probation in 2020. There is also an eyewitness yet to testify, who was present and was arrested together with the accused and released yesterday.” The accused and the witness were long-time friends, she said.

For the defence, Debono argued that the legislator’s intention was to avoid sending people to prison for carrying small amounts of drugs and had even named the law “the Drug Dependence (Treatment not imprisonment)” act. This was a drug court case, said the lawyer, ruing the possibility that his client “will be detained because a single witness hasn’t testified.”

The magistrate, however, invited the lawyer to look at his client’s criminal record, which was four pages long.

If the system doesn’t have the means to put an 18-year-old on the right path, I don’t know,” said the lawyer, after reading the document. “It appears there is a problem, yes. But if there is no bail supervision the problem isn’t being tackled. There should be a means of tackling the underlying problem,”  Debono argued, adding that the witness could have been summoned to testify in the inquiry.

“We aren’t talking about large amounts here. He has family support, his father is present in the courtroom and is prepared to guarantee his son’s release.”

Inspector Chetcuti replied that the accused was being charged with the same offences he had been found guilty of in the past. “He’s a young man starting life. I see him having trouble sticking to his probation order,” said the inspector.

The lawyer retorted that the accused had three previous convictions, one of which was for possession of cannabis, which is no longer a crime. “We must understand that society is going through changes. The legislator recognised that prison isn’t solving the problem. When we look at the criminal record we must see it in context. Lawmakers want to tackle drug problems without resorting to deprivation of liberty,” Debono told the court.

The Magistrate pointed out that the punishments the accused had received had all given him an opportunity to change his path, but that he hadn’t taken them. Debono agreed but said that there was a window of opportunity for change to take place, quoting a judgement to this effect.

“At the end of the day what we all want is that the accused leave these proceedings better than when he started them,” said the lawyer.

The court, having heard the arguments on bail, reserved the right to decree on bail from chambers.

In a decree issued several hours later, late yesterday evening, Debono was granted bail against a €300 deposit and a €3000 personal guarantee. He was also ordered to observe a curfew and sign the bail book at his local police station once a week. A supervision order was also imposed.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb were defence counsel.