Conditional discharge in firearms case

A teenager who was to be sentenced to probation for a firearm possession offence has instead received a conditional discharge.

Justice Algernon Smith ruled that the mandatory sentencing guidelines set out in the law did not apply to the teen because of his age.

As part of the conditional discharge the 16-year-old will be under the supervision of a probation officer and have to abide by any “reasonable requests and directions” given by her for one year or return to court to be sentenced to the full extent of the law, which makes provisions for up to 20 years for firearm offences.

The case stems from an incident in West Bay on 6 May when police saw the teen with several older males in a garage. When officers approached the individuals, the teen ran to the rear of the premises.

While giving chase, officers said, the young man was holding his right pocket. Once cornered by police, he threw something shiny into the bushes, before falling to the ground.

After subduing the teen and searching the area, police found a loaded .40 calibre pistol. The teen was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm; he pleaded guilty, telling the officers that one of the older men told him to take the gun and hide it when they saw the police.

He said he had the gun in his possession only for a very short time and he did not know it was loaded, nor did he intend to use it.

The maximum penalty for possession of a firearm in the Cayman Islands is 20 years. The conviction may also carry maximum fine of $100,000.

Justice Smith said the Youth Justice Law has established a special regime for the trial and sentencing of young offenders.

“This may be described as special legislation,” he said, adding that the firearms law is general legislation.

He also pointed out that any ambiguity should be in the favour of the accused.

As a result, Justice Smith considered a probation order, making it possible for the young person, who has served about seven months in the Eagle House lockup for young offenders, to attend a special programme in Georgia that his parents indicated is similar to a boot camp, after which time he could be sent to a boarding school in Utah.

However, there was no precedent set in this respect, and sentencing was adjourned until the necessary research could be done, part of which involved Crown Prosecutor Kenneth Ferguson seeking advice from the Attorney General regarding what types of certificates would have to be issued in order to facilitate this type of probation order.

When court convened on 3 December, Defence Attorney Nicholas Dixey argued for a conditional discharge for his client as an alternative. He said that the time his client had spent in custody and the fact that a probation order would expire in three months on the boy’s birthday, was cause to make a conditional discharge order. He said conditions could be added to that order.

Justice Smith agreed and ordered a conditional discharge, stating, “The aim of the court is to rehabilitate this young man so that he might be able to make something of himself and become a man. ….. We can say we tried.”

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