Wednesday, 20 May 2009

"Howzatt?" Guilty as charged.

Today a former England cricketer was sentenced to 13 years in chokey for smuggling cocaine. Chris Lewis was an excellent player when he tried, sadly he didn't try often enough and his career was littered with lost opportunities. From the little I have read about it, his venture into drug smuggling was equally half-baked. He and a friend imported liquid cocaine in containers labelled as fruit juice. Most comical of all was the pair's decision to blame each other - the classic "cut-throat" defence.

Smuggling drugs is fraught with difficulties. Actually, I'm not in a position to say how difficult the smuggling itself is but I can say something about the difficulties faced if caught. You see, there's no such thing as a good defence. The tin of pineapple chunks in your luggage turns out to be full of cocaine, what can you say that might possibly make sense?

"My mum likes pineapple chunks so I bought them as a present." OK, so how did it happen that the tin of innocent fruit turned into thousands of pounds worth of Colombia's finest? How did it get onto the shelves of the QuickyMart in the first place? And how very lucky that it was intercepted by HM Revenue & Customs before dear old Ma wolfed it down a drop of Carnation milk.

Or you could try this one: "I never knew it was there, it must have been planted in my luggage by an unknown stranger." Bit tricky that, how do you explain that you didn't notice it? Say it wasn't in your luggage but you came over by car and it was found under the spare tyre in the boot. Then you have to explain how the intended recipient was going to recover it from you. If you have no connection to the importation chain this might prove a little impractical.

And then there is the defence run by Mr Lewis and his chum: "My friend gave it to me to bring over for him because he feared his luggage would be overweight." In this case each said it of the other. Now you know the real reason we are asked that seemingly daft question at airports: "has anyone given you anything to carry?" It isn't so that we will say "yes", it's so we will say "no"; then when we are caught and say we were just carrying the pineapple chunks for a heavily laden friend we find we shot ourselves in the foot at the start of the journey. Of course when travelling with a friend you might find that one of you is over the baggage weight allowance and the other is under so spreading the load makes sense, but only a moron takes a container of anything, sensible people relieve their friend of clothes or stolen hotel towels.

A necessary part of the defence is that you didn't know the stuff was cocaine. This aspect of it tends to stand or fall alongside the inanity of your excuse for carrying the package in the first place. Once a jury dismisses your story about how the stuff came into your possession it follows almost as night follows day that they won't believe anything else you tell them.

Following that theme, I now arrive at the "cut-throat" defence - where the two defendants blame each other. Amateur criminals rather like the cut-throat defence. They talk about it while awaiting trial and conclude that by blaming each other they will both get off because the jury won't be able to decide which is guilty. Or they fall out before the trial and blame each other out of spite. Either way it is an almost guaranteed route to conviction because it appears cowardly and unrealistic. Professional criminals rarely use the cut-throat. Where the evidence is very strong against one and a bit weaker against the other they prefer to sacrifice the one who is going to be potted anyway (in the general run of things his guilty plea earns a reduced sentence). He then gives evidence against the other and enhances his friend's chance of acquittal by making mistakes in his evidence thereby creating a hole in the prosecution case that was not previously present.

Mr Lewis and his friend played it all wrong and will have seven or so years to think of a better defence if ever they are tempted again. They didn't keep their eye on the ball.

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