CORNER BROOK A Corner Brook man with a history of drug offences has been given a federal prison term for his seventh conviction.
William John Stewart, 44, was given two years for possessing cocaine for the purposes of trafficking and another 30 days for breaching conditions of a probation order.
Stewart was arrested in September 2010, following a traffic stop on the Trans-Canada Highway in western Newfoundland. Police received a tip from a reliable source that he was returning from eastern Newfoundland with a quantity of cocaine.
During the stoppage, police seized almost 117 grams of cocaine — a little more than four ounces — and $1,009 cash.
At the time, Stewart was on probation for a drug trafficking conviction in 2009. A condition of that order was for him to keep the peace and be of good behaviour.
Stewart has five other prior convictions for drug-related offences on his record, dating back to 1987.
During a judge-alone trial heard in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador in Corner Brook earlier this fall, Justice William Goodridge heard the amount of cocaine involved in this case was relatively low. An expert police witness testified that the volume of cocaine found in Stewart’s vehicle was typical of a mid-level street drug dealer, as opposed to a wholesaler.
There was no evidence, the expert testified, of any larger commercial operation in the works in this case.
Crown attorney Andrew May asked for a sentence of between three and four years, while defence lawyer Robby Ash suggested a conditional sentence of two years, less one day, so it could be served in a provincial penal institution and could be followed by a period of probation.
There were some mitigating factors, including the fact Stewart had been keeping his distance from associates known to be involved with drugs. He had also started up his own business, which a pre-sentence report on Stewart’s personal situation indicated was helping his rehabilitation.
The aggravating factors included the fact cocaine is considered a hard drug, the premeditation involved in Stewart’s plan to sell the drug for financial gain, his prior record and the fact he was on probation when he committed this offence.
Goodridge could not agree with the defence’s suggestion of house arrest because the combination of aggravating factors made a penitentiary sentence of at least two years more appropriate.
The judge noted how a conditional sentence ordered for three drug offences in 2003 and an intermittent sentence imposed for a drug trafficking conviction in 2009 did not have the desired effect of deterring Stewart from engaging in further criminal activities involving illegal drugs.
“Mr. Stewart is not being sentenced twice for past crimes but, because past sentences failed to achieve deterrence, a more severe sentence is necessary in an effort to meet this sentencing objective,” Goodridge wrote in his written decision on this case.
The two-year sentence imposed for the latest drug conviction was toward the lower end of the range, said Goodridge, because of the few mitigating factors Stewart had in his favour.
Stewart was given the extra 30 days for the breach of probation. Goodridge noted such a sentence is generally served consecutively to a sentence for the related offence which constituted the breach.
Goodridge told Stewart that it is the court’s hope that he use his proven work ethic and initiative to be a more productive member of the community after his sentence has been served.
“I trust that this will be your last involvement in the drug trade,” the judge said to him. “If you resume participation in illegal drug activity after release from prison, then you will likely be subject to a further significant period or periods of imprisonment.”