Judiciary fires back at critics of 'light' sentences from western judges
The Jamaican judiciary, under fire for perceived light sentences handed to persons convicted for possession of illegal guns and ammunition, has come out swinging at critics and media reports on the controversy.
Through its Court Management Service (CMS), the judiciary said it has no objection to "appropriate scrutiny" but insisted that this should be done in a manner that is fair, balanced, and based on full and accurate information.
"The judiciary welcomes and understands the public interest in the dispensation of criminal justice, especially at a time when there is heightened sensitivity to the high levels of some crimes in our country," CMS said in a statement released yesterday in response to a series of stories published by The Gleaner this week.
"However, inaccurate, incomplete, and unverified information that unfairly generates negative perceptions of sentencing practices brings the judiciary and our system of justice into disrepute and creates a significant threat to the rule of law and the fabric of our democracy."
Senior investigators within the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) have drafted a document which reveals that judges in St James, Westmoreland, Hanover, and Trelawny are opting more for fines, suspended sentences, and probation orders for persons convicted for illegal possession of firearm and ammunition.
The document, which has been brought to the attention of the Andrew Holness administration, examined 35 cases that were disposed of in the circuit courts in all four parishes last year. It showed that the stiffest punishment handed down was a five-year prison term.
Ten persons were given sentences of two to four years in prison.
Conversely, the document indicates that one woman was admonished and discharged for possession of ammunition, while several persons received suspended sentences and probation orders.
"Even though we fully recognise the independence of our judiciary, we are very concerned about the effectiveness of these sentences being handed down by the respective judges," one investigator fumed.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has also admitted that he has concerns about the disparity in the sentences being imposed by judges.
"There needs to be greater consistency by judges," he said, adding that sentences should send a strong signal to society about the repugnance of criminal activities.
... Sentences are deemed appropriate - CMS
In defending the action of judges in western Jamaica who are being criticised for handing down light sentences in cases of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, Court Management Service (CMS) revealed that the woman who was admonished and discharged by Justice David Fraser last January was an American tourist who pleaded guilty to possession of ammunition.
The police document reported that she was convicted for illegal possession of firearm and ammunition.
According to CMS, the woman was held at the airport at the end of her vacation with her mother and immediately informed authorities that the firearm magazine discovered belonged to her husband, who is a licensed firearm holder in the United States.
NO WILFUL INTENT
"Despite her technical guilt, there was no evidence of a deliberate or wilful intention to breach our laws, and no one within the borders of Jamaica was placed at any risk by the inadvertent commission of the offence," the agency noted.
CMS said the "young mother of four small children" had very little money left to pay "even a nominal fine" and was "visibly distraught and utterly devastate.."
"She would not be allowed to leave the island if she had an unpaid fine. It was Friday ... . It was in those wholly exceptional circumstances that the sentence of admonished and discharged was deemed appropriate," the agency explained.
The police document revealed, too, that Justice Bertram Morrison imposed total fines of $170,000 on a man convicted for illegal possession of firearm and ammunition and a fine of $70,000 on a man convicted for possession of ammunition.
But CMS said that in handing down the sentence, the judge had the benefit of social enquiry reports, "which contained more mitigating than aggravating circumstances and reflected the previous good character of the defendants".
"A significant factor was that by the time of sentencing, the men had already been in custody for four years, which, according to law, had to be deducted from the sentences to be handed down. The sentences were, therefore, effectively four years' imprisonment, plus the fines imposed," it explained.