A 35-year-old national of St Maarten was yesterday jailed for five years for having sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, 11 years ago.
In passing sentence, which was reduced by six months to reflect time Victor Gumbs spent in custody prior to accessing bail, High Court Judge Malcolm Holdip said the general society in Trinidad and Tobago seems not to appreciate that such an occurrence is a crime.
Gumbs has been resident in Trinidad since 2002.
And in a strange twist, Gumbs's attorney, Nickolas Ali, presented to the court a testimonial, in the form of a letter, from the girl, who is now 24.
Justice Holdip rejected the letter, saying the young woman should have been present to say whatever she needed to.
Holdip said Parliament, in its wisdom, recognised that there was a problem and, in 1996, passed legislation which provided for a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for persons found guilty of the offence.
Section 6 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act states: "Where a male person has sexual intercourse with a female person who is not his wife and who is under the age of fourteen years, he is guilty of an offence, whether or not the female person consented to the intercourse and whether or not at the time of the intercourse he believed her to be fourteen years of age or more, and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life."
Gumbs, at the time of the offence on October 12, 2002, was a 23-year-old conductor working on a maxi-taxi plying the San Juan to Port of Spain route.
He was found guilty of the offence on March 15 by a nine-member jury comprising eight men and one woman.
The trial was heard in the Second Criminal Court at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain.
The State, represented by attorney Sabrina Dougdeen, was granted leave to treat the young woman as a hostile witness after she refused to testify against Gumbs when called to the witness stand.
Dougdeen resorted to having the woman's statement to the police and the testimony she gave at the magistrate's court read to the jury.
The court heard that the girl, dressed in school uniform, was taken to Gumbs's home at Cantaro, Santa Cruz, where they had sexual intercourse.
The girl fell asleep and her parents, fearing that she was missing when she failed to return home that night, made a report to the police. She was found at Gumbs's home.
Ali asked Holdip to be lenient with Gumbs since force was not a factor in the commission of the offence.
He described Gumbs as a hardworking and assiduous man who operated a business as a sub-contractor and is now the father of two young daughters.
Ali said Gumbs was unaware of the age of the girl and was not prudent enough to ascertain her age.
Dougdeen said there is a need for the court, by its sentence, to send a strong message to potential offenders and to Gumbs himself who didn't seem to think, even during the trial, that he did anything wrong.
In passing sentence, Holdip said he also took into account the 11-year delay between the time Gumbs was arrested and the time the trial took place. He said, however, that Gumbs contributed to this delay after he absconded for four years while out on bail. He was re-arrested on a warrant.