Maltese opinion was divided yesterday after William Agius was thrown into jail for three years as punishment for having trafficked 2,000 pills of ecstasy in 2004, back when he was still 18.
An online poll conducted by the Times of Malta made for interesting reading: out of 1,600 respondents, 49% said Agius’ sentence was too harsh or that he should never have been imprisoned, 38% said the sentence was correct, while the remaining 12% believed it was too lenient.
On Facebook, several people argued a prison sentence was unfair on Agius – given that he had been clean for ten years and that the proliferation of drugs inside Malta’s prison means he is more likely to relapse behind closed doors.
“Common sense is unfortunately not applied in our law courts,” one person said. “I am not going for a scot-free sentence, but sending this guy to prison is too harsh. He reformed. He defeated all the demons which were ruining his life and never looked back. Community work would have been a fairer sentence to him and society.”
“The purpose of prison is also to rehabilitate and this man is rehabilitated,” another person wrote. “Sending him to prison may make him turn to drugs again as drugs are ripe in prison. Hit him with a large fine and parole as a punishment because yes, he did commit a crime. Prison time doesn’t make sense in this case. He’s not a danger to society.”
Others also criticised the courts for dragging out this case for 14 years, effectively leaving Agius hanging in limbo throughout.
However, others said the sentence was a particularly lenient one for an ecstasy trafficking case – which normally carries with it a prison sentence of six years or over.
“It’s a shame that the court took so long in taking its decision and it’s very good that Mr Agius said he’s been clean for the last ten years, but the fact remains that he did deal in drugs,” one woman said. “This means that he was making money out of someone’s misery. His lawyer saying that he was a mere runner doesn’t mean anything. He did do the deed and he got paid for it, so yes, justice has been served.”
“It’s wrong that the case took so long but the penalty stays on,” another man said. “One should put themselves in the victim’s boots…the damage was done. It’s good that he reformed but the law is equal to everyone.”
Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar, who was one of the most prominent voices calling for the courts to sentence Agius to community work instead of prison, described the sentence as “sensible”.
“It is only thanks to legal changes introduced by this government that William Agius’ sentence could have been a sensible one,” she said. “I’m proud I stuck my neck out for William and for the several other youths who rebuild their lives after hitting rock bottom. These three years won’t be easy but I’m convinced that William’s courage and determination will see him overcome all temptations.”
Why did the court case drag on for so long?
In response to criticism at Agius’ excessive 14-year wait, justice minister Owen Bonnici provided people with a timeline of events leading up to yesterday’s final sentence.
Agius and an accomplice were arrested in 2004 and charged in court with trafficking 2,000 pills – back then the biggest ecstasy haul in Malta’s history. The police’s compilation of evidence in court dragged on till 2010, after which Agius filed a preliminary objection – which was rejected in 2012. Agius then lodged an appeal at the Superior Court but this was rejected a year later.
In 2013, Agius opened a constitutional case claiming his human rights had been breached, but it ruled against him last November. A jury was appointed for a hearing yesterday, and Agius was sentenced to three years imprisonment as well as a €3,000 fine.