'Ridiculous sentence! ' - Attorneys demand explanation of judge's decision to give 5 years for 18 guns
The "ridiculous" disparity in the sentence handed down by two High Court judges to four men who were held in Portland nearly five years ago with an arsenal of 18 illegal guns and a "bucketload" of ammunition has triggered demands for an explanation from the judiciary.
Three of the four - Kirk Smith, Basil Walters and Richard Mitchell - were sentenced yesterday to five years in prison for each gun and four years for the rounds after they opted to stand trial and were convicted last September.
The punishment was handed down in the Gun Court by Justice Bertram Morrison, who also ordered that the sentences be served simultaneously. Gun Court cases are closed to the public, but according to reports, Morrison took into consideration the fact that the men have been in custody since their arrest in 2013.
However, legal sources say this stands in stark contrast to the 18-year sentence imposed on the fourth man, Denver Bernard, by Justice Leighton Pusey in 2016, even after he pleaded guilty to his involvement in the arms bust.
"That is ridiculous," one top criminal defence attorney fumed yesterday.
Lawyers for Bernard have reportedly taken his case to the Court of Appeal seeking to have the sentence reduced.
Another attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that he has no background information about Smith, Walters and Mitchell, including whether they have a criminal record, but insisted that the disparity is troubling.
"They went through a full trial that lasted over a year and got less than the person who pleaded guilty. Look at the stark difference," the attorney said, in obvious reference to the practice of giving discounted sentence to persons who plead guilty and save judicial time.
"And especially in these times, you find so much guns and a bucket of ammunition and this is the sentence?" the attorney questioned, making reference to the country's rising murder rate.
Jamaica recorded 1,616 murders last year, an increase of just over 20 per cent when compared with the 1,350 recorded in 2016. The bloodletting has continued into 2018 with the police recording 61 killings in the first 13 days.
Guns account for as much as 70 per cent of the murders in Jamaica, police statistics have revealed.
Law-enforcement sources revealed that the 18 guns include two pump-action shotguns and 16 pistols. They were reportedly found inside a Toyota Hiace minibus, driven by Smith, during a police operation along the Blueberry Hill road.
Peter Champagnie, who, along with attorney-at-law Kemar Robinson, represented Smith, conceded that on the face of it, the sentence handed to his client appeared to be bad. However, he explained that there were a number of mitigating factors.
Chief among them, he said, was that Bernard took responsibility for the guns, telling authorities they belonged to him and that he went to Portland to get them.
Champagnie said despite this, prosecutors opted to continue the case against the other men, saying they, too, should be held accountable.