Man found it, kept it for protection
Richard Joseph Parsons, 22, was sentenced on Thursday to nine years’ imprisonment for possession of an unlicensed 12-gauge Remington shotgun. Defence Attorney Kerrie Cox told the court Parsons found the gun and kept it because there had been a shooting in his neighbourhood and his own residence had been burgled twice.
He submitted there were exceptional circumstances in this case that would not require the court to impose the otherwise mandatory minimum sentence of seven years.
Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale disagreed, citing factors she regarded as aggravating the seriousness of the offence. Further, she pointed out, the sentencing regime set by legislators was meant to deter people from having unlicensed firearms.
Mr. Cox gave notice of appeal.
Crown Counsel Candia James said the firearm was discovered after Parsons was stopped for a traffic violation in West Bay on 27 October, 2010. When an officer approached Parsons’ car, there was a strong scent of ganja, which led to a search of the vehicle and recovery of vegetable matter.
Parsons was arrested and cautioned, then taken to the West Bay Police Station.
A senior officer determined that a search of Parsons’ residence should be carried out and he was transported to the address on his driver’s licence. A pellet [BB] gun was recovered from a bedroom there. Parsons told police he did not permanently reside at that address, which was his parents’ home. He directed them to his residence and disarmed an alarm so that police could enter. They found two Remington shotgun rounds in the living room and two ganja plants at the rear of the house along with a book on cultivation.
In the bathroom, they found a 12-gauge Remington shotgun with four live rounds in it. Also recovered was an unlicensed spear gun.
Parsons was arrested and made no reply, but then spoke with an officer who asked how he came into possession of the items. He signed the officer’s notebook in which his answers were written. He entered his guilty pleas for the shotgun, spear gun and ganja in November.
Ms James pointed out that the Firearms Law provides for a sentence of up to 20 years and a fine up to $100,000. Recent amendments set a mandatory minimum of 10 years for conviction after trial, and a mandatory minimum of seven years for a guilty plea.
“This is so unless the court is of the opinion there are exceptional circumstances regarding the offence or the offender. It thus falls to you to decide if there are exceptional circumstances,” she told the magistrate.
Mr. Cox listed what he called the exceptional circumstances of the offender. He explained that Parsons suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and was prescribed medication. He found that ganja had a better effect for him than the medicine, but unfortunately he gradually became dependent on the ganja.
Parsons had held a good job since the day after he graduated from high school and held an exemplary work record. He moved into an old family home that he fixed up inside and out and felt good about. In 2010 he was subjected to three fairly awful incidents – a shooting and two burglaries. A psychiatric assessment showed that the ganja use plus those incidents had the effect of causing anxiety and hyper-vigilance.
Parsons had no previous convictions, his attorney emphasised: “The character of this young man is quite extraordinary.” In custody since his arrest, Parsons had enrolled in a City and Guild examination course. He stopped smoking ganja even though the drug was rampant in prison, and he told his probation officer when he fell off the wagon and smoked a spliff.
He even admitted discharging the shotgun to see if it would work after he found it in an area where gun crime is rampant, Mr. Cox said. On the way to his house, he told the police he had the gun. Parsons had previously found a gun while diving and had turned that one over to police. He gave evidence for the Crown in a recent murder trial and exposed himself to stiff cross-examination. He had wonderful references from people who know him, Mr. Cox concluded. As to the spear gun, he had a licence for one, but it was stolen in one of the burglaries. A friend gave him another spear gun and he did not do anything about licensing it.
Both he and Ms James cited sentences in previous cases, including a one-year sentence for an air gun.
In passing sentence, the magistrate said the very features Mr. Cox said amounted to exceptional circumstances were the features she regarded as aggravating. Given his paranoia, induced to a large extent by use of ganja, and the actual incidents that caused him anxiety, Parsons might have used the gun against someone who meant no harm. He might have been disarmed by an intruder or the gun might have been stolen by some criminally-minded person.
Finding the gun was not a mitigating factor. Neither was giving evidence in a trial, since that was his civic duty. His good character did not prompt him to do the right thing after he found the gun. She read from a report that indicated Parsons was frightened and needed the gun because he could then threaten an intruder or deal on equal terms with someone who came into his home at night. She said he manifested every intention of using the gun in the future.
“He took the gun into his possession to defend himself against perceived harm,” the magistrate summarised. “If everyone who felt threatened by current events did the same thing, Cayman would rapidly descend into lawlessness and violence,” she commented.
Sentences for the ganja, spear gun and ammunition were concurrent with the nine years. The pellet gun was not a lethal barrelled weapon, so no offence was charged.