Mandatory sentence not unreasonable
THE EDITOR, Sir:
The recent announcement by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that murder offence could attract 30 years penalty has caused consternation among some members of the legal fraternity. They must be reminded of the fact that those who commit murders are not discriminatory in their actions and therefore none of us are immune to becoming victims.
Anyone who has practised law long enough at the criminal defence bar, if they are candid, would have come across instances where, with disdain, a convict after being given a light sentence, would respond privately by saying that the sentence is a “cowboy lunchtime”.
For the prime minister, therefore, to be giving thought to a mandatory minimum period of 30 years for a murder conviction is not unreasonable.
Concomitant to this must be stronger penalties for those found guilty of harbouring such persons and those who knowingly fail to report the dastardly deeds of such persons to the police. The latter instance which encapsulates the offence of misprision of a felony, which attracts a sentence of two years under the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act, is simply unacceptable.
It cannot be that a person who pleads guilty to murder should be treated in the same way as another who did not plead guilty but is subsequently convicted of murder. The avenue for those who would wish to plead guilty must remain open and be an attractive one. In the absence of this, there would be a real risk of all accused persons electing to have their day in court by way of trial.
The focus of any 30 years mandatory minimum sentence for murder must be aimed at those who, in the commission of any murder, use illegal firearms. Actions of those in this category are more than premeditated; it is a way of life for them. Strictest penalties should apply upon conviction. Outside of this category, those found guilty of murder where it arises from a domestic dispute should be eligible for the consideration of a judge’s discretion to go below a 30-year period of incarceration. In this regard, the concern of the public of any judge imposing an unduly light sentence is easily treatable by what is now in law the ability of the prosecution to appeal such a sentence. This was recently demonstrated in the case of R v Lindell Powell  JMCA Crim 53.
In the instances, members of the security forces found guilty of murder a 30-year sentence would be unjust. That the prime minister’s heart is in the right place is without question.
However, unqualified support for a mandatory 30 years for murder convicts cannot be the position if this is the ultimate destination. Until the position is settled, perhaps the immediate focus should be on improving the methods of policing.
PETER CHAMPAGNIE, KC