The Government will introduce an amendment to the Firearms Law giving judge’s discretion not to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for firearms offences if they are satisfied exceptional circumstances exist.
Speaking at Friday’s Cabinet press briefing, Cabinet member Alden McLaughlin said the amendment would leave it to judges to decide whether exceptional circumstances justified the 10 year mandatory minimum sentence being avoided.
He said the amendment was a response to concerns that had been expressed about the controversial 10-year minimum sentence.
‘We’ve heard about it too and we have responded,’ Mr. McLaughlin said.
The amendment will be introduced in the Legislative Assembly’s next session, beginning 31 August.
The announcement comes prior to the Grand Court trial this week of Irvalyn Natasha Bush, 19, of West Bay. She is accused of possessing an unlicensed firearm.
Last week, Maricelle Manahan, 27, of West Bay received the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for having an unlicensed firearm, despite Grand Court judge Alex Henderson saying that Manahan deserved a lesser sentence.
Although Manahan was arrested in June 2004 – more than a year before the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence was introduced – he came under the 2005 amendment because the law applied retroactively.
The case was also controversial because the Crown elected to have the case tried in the Grand Court – where the 10-year minimum sentence applied – rather than in Summary court, which is generally subject to a four year maximum sentence.
Defence Attorney Nicholas Dixey inferred this was a breach of the separation of powers, as the executive branch of government was effectively determining sentencing, not a judge.
It is not the first time the different sentencing outcomes of the two courts in relation to the Firearms Law 2005 amendment have been reported on in the Caymanian Compass.
In July 2006 the Crown opted to try an American visitor with an unlicensed firearm in the Summary Court, where he was fined $3,000 after spending a week in custody.
Defence Attorney John Furniss said the visitor forgot that the gun was in his suitcase when he and his wife came here for their anniversary. The suitcase would have gone through security checks three times without being found. The gun was not discovered until the couple was leaving Cayman.
In October 2006, Adalberto Zuniga, a Honduran national, received a 10-year sentence in the Grand Court after pleading guilty to possessing an unlicensed forearm.
The offence occurred when Zuniga arrived at the George Town Dock aboard a cargo vessel in March 2006. The gun was found in a plastic bag under his bed, but it was not licensed and no one had declared it to Customs officials.