CHARLOTTE AMALIE — A St. Thomas man who was caught by federal authorities with an illegal alien in his dingy north of St. John has been sentenced to a half year of home confinement.
Ahmaud Rodriguez, 25, of Smith Bay, was given that sentence today for his June 3 conviction on transporting an illegal alien, U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert said.
According to court documents filed in the case, on December 7, 2019, Rodriguez agreed to transport an illegal alien from Tortola, British Virgin Islands to St. Thomas for a cash payment.
Around 4:30 a.m. on December 8th, Rodriguez arrived in a small dinghy vessel at a ferry dock in Tortola, BVI where he met his illegal passenger.
Rodriguez collected his fee and made his way with the passenger into U.S. waters.
Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents patrolling the
waters north of St. John observed a vessel on their radar at approximately 4:40 a.m.
The vessel was operating without navigation lights and accordingly, agents stopped and boarded the boat to conduct an inspection.
Upon boarding, agents observed Rodriguez and a female passenger.
The passenger acknowledged that she had flown from the Dominican Republic to Tortola, BVI where she met Rodriguez and boarded his boat for the trip to St. Thomas.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Molloy sentenced Rodriguez to six months of imprisonment, substituted by six months of home detention and four years of probation.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
It was prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office of the Virgin Islands.
Meanwhile, this is not Rodriguez’s first brush with law enforcement or the local criminal court system.
A Superior Court judge made a court ruling concerning Ahmaud Rodriguez at the beginning of this year.
Superior Court Judge Denise Francois ruled this that the Virgin Islands Police Department acted within the law when officers approached Rodriguez rolling a joint outdoors on a boat trailer in the summer of 2019.
Judge Francois pointed out that while possession of small amounts of cannabis has been legalized in the territory, “possession of marijuana is still unlawful.”
On August 15, 2019, Rodriguez was on private property “sitting in a blue chair that was inside of a boat trailer in the yard of Smith Bay #97,” according to an opinion filed January 9, 2020 by Judge Francois.
Two VIPD police officers were conducting an inspection of the area around Louie’s Market, which one of the officers “described as a high crime and high drug trafficking area,” when they saw Rodriguez “rolling what appeared to be a marijuana cigarette in plain view.”
The officers “reversed the vehicle and approached Rodriguez and advised Rodriguez of the ‘Marijuana laws of the Virgin Islands.’ Rodriguez continued to roll his marijuana cigarette,” according to court documents.
The officers asked Rodriguez to stand, and noticed that he had been sitting on a large plastic bag with loose cannabis, which he told police “is my personal weed to smoke,” court documents indicate.
Officers also found a glass mason jar with 11 baggies of cannabis, “two packs of Apple brand zip lock baggies that are used to store narcotics for sales and a brown pack of wrapping paper,” according to court documents.
Police arrested Rodriguez and charged him with possession of narcotics with intent to distribute. According to the court opinion, police seized a total of 3.9 ounces of marijuana from Rodriguez.
Rodriguez had sought to suppress that evidence at trial, and argued that police had violated his Fourth Amendment constitutional right to be free of “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Francois said in the opinion that “a search or seizure without a warrant is unreasonable absent the applicability of one of a few, well-delineated exceptions. One such exception is the investigatory stop and frisk.”
Francois also noted that officers’ entry onto the property “was a valid intrusion,” and “the police observed Rodriguez rolling a marijuana cigarette in plain sight. Therefore, they had reason to approach Rodriguez and question him.”
Rodriguez argued that police came into his yard without a warrant, but Francois said he did not submit any evidence showing “that the yard in question belonged to Rodriguez or that he was a tenant.”
In addition, Francois wrote, “Rodriguez claims that the yard surrounding ‘his house, was fenced, was private,’” and relied on case law to argue that the Fourth Amendment “protection of the curtilage of a home extended to where he was sitting in his boat trailer.”
Francois, however, was not convinced by this argument, and denied his motion to suppress the evidence seized by police.
“There is nothing in the record to support Rodriguez’s statement that the search and seizure took place within the curtilage of his home. There is nothing in the record upon which the Court can make a finding that the boat trailer was part of the curtilage of Rodriguez’s home,” Francois wrote. “To the contrary, the Probable Cause Fact Sheet indicates that the police observed Rodriguez’s activity from their police vehicle.”
Francois found that Rodriguez “had no reasonable expectation of privacy sitting in his alleged yard in such a manner that the police could observe what he was doing as they drove by,” and noted that “the existence of the marijuana in plain sight provided justification for a search and seizure.”
While possession of an ounce or less of marijuana has been decriminalized under territorial law, “marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance” under the Virgin Islands Code, and “possession of marijuana is still unlawful,” Francois ruled.
The Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act, which will allow medicinal use and regulation of cannabis and the regulation of medicinal cannabis provisioning centers throughout the territory, was signed in January 2019, though the islands have seen little movement forward creating the Cannabis Advisory Board, the nine-member group tasked with developing the rules and regulations governing marijuana use.
In December of 2019, Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. proposed an amendment to the law that would legalize recreational cannabis, but Senators have yet to endorse the chief executive’s legislation.