Youth’s manslaughter sentence settled

A teenager who fatally stabbed an older teen has been released after seven years, two months and four days in custody.

Justice Alexander Henderson placed the offender on strict conditions for the next four years.

It was the first ruling of its kind since the Court of Appeal issued its decision affecting people who have been sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

The young person, referred to as Y because of his age, was 14 when he went to an after-hours session in George Town where the stabbing occurred. He was 15 when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

The Grand Court judge at the time imposed sentence under the Youth Justice Law, which called for a young person convicted of a serious crime to be detained during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

When the matter was taken to the Court of Appeal last year, all parties agreed that sentencing is part of the judicial process, carried out by the judges of the courts.

Her Majesty the Queen is represented in Cayman by the Governor, who is part of the executive branch of government. He does not have judicial powers.

As a result of this ruling, Y went back to Grand Court in May for review. The sentencing court had recommended that he serve a minimum of six years before release on licence; if release did not take place at that time, there was to be annual review.

The reviewing judge, Justice Priya Levers, said the question before her was whether he had been rehabilitated and punished sufficiently. She also wanted to know that he would be going back to an appropriate environment.

After hearing that he had tested positive for ganja consumption not long before his case was in court, the judge told him he had to prove he intended to be a good citizen. She urged him to stay drug-free and work toward Category D status, which would make him eligible for a work-release programme.

This month, Acting Senior Crown Counsel Trevor Ward told Justice Henderson that the young man had achieved those goals. Mr. Ward also shared the Crown’s position – In principle, having regard to time served, the penal element of the sentence appeared to be satisfied.

Defence Attorney John Furniss cited other manslaughter cases, in which the sentences ranged between eight and 12 years.

Justice Henderson said Y had served at least as much time as if he had been an adult when he committed the offence. That would be on the basis of time off for good behaviour or eligibility for parole.

Mr. Furniss also advised the court that Y had earned his high school diploma, with outstanding achievement in two subjects. He now had a job offer.

The judge said he was satisfied Y should be released. ‘I don’t think on general principles a juvenile can be subjected to a harsher sentence than he would have received if he had been an adult,’ he commented.

One concern he had was about Y’s proposed place of residence. He asked if there were somewhere else. The matter was adjourned until the next day and Mr. Furniss discussed the situation with family members.

When the matter resumed, Mr. Furniss said a probation officer had visited the newly proposed residence and found it acceptable.

Justice Henderson agreed and ordered Y’s immediate release. He said this was a new departure for Y after having spent more than seven years in prison. ‘I believe you can do well and become a useful member of society,’ he told the young man.

But he also warned him that if there were any significant breach of his release conditions, he could expect to be incarcerated again. ‘I am not of a mind to allow endless chances; I expect strict compliance.’

To comply with the conditions of his release, Y is not to have in his possession any weapon, including any knife other than a dinner knife of the sort used as cutlery.

He must not possess or use any illegal drug.

He is required to stay in employment and be under the supervision of a probation officer.

He must live at the specified residence and observe a curfew. The judge said this was to help him through a period of adjustment and could be reviewed.