Judge: Public has a right to know factors influencing sentences

Hearing adjourned for causing death by reckless driving

Sentencing for Veramae Patricia Watson was adjourned on Friday after Attorney Clyde Allen asked to submit information his client did not want publicised.

A jury had found Watson guilty of causing the death of Edwin Edwards by reckless driving after the trailer her vehicle was pulling became detached and veered into the path of Mr. Edwards’ bus. The verdict came on 1 July and she has remained on bail pending sentence (Caymanian Compass, 5 July).

After Mr. Allen raised what he said was a sensitive issue, Justice Alex Henderson told him every bit of information given to the court with a view to influencing sentence must be public, with few exceptions.

Mr. Allen suggested matters that might not be dealt with in open court.

The judge asked him to cite a specific law or case precedent. “The public has a right to know what influences the judge on a decision he comes to,” he emphasised.

He also pointed out that he would not receive information in private simply because the Crown Counsel in the matter agreed to it. There has to be a clear legal justification, he said.

Mr. Allen suggested going into the judge’s chambers, but Justice Henderson said he would need to be shown a reason.

Mr. Allen then asked that a social inquiry report be prepared on behalf of his client, saying it would focus on just one narrow issue.

“No, it won’t,” Justice Henderson replied. A social inquiry report includes details of the offence and the offender’s history, including attitude toward the offence. He pointed out that Watson was of middle age and good character. He did not see what a probation officer could tell him and he refused the request.

The judge said he was prepared to adjourn the matter for one week so that Mr. Allen could come back and show him clear authority that he was empowered to hear mitigation in private.

By this stage of proceedings Mr. Allen had already handed up sentencing precedents and character references from people he described as well-respected in the community and who knew Watson well. He also read into the record a letter from Watson expressing her remorse.

The judge previously indicated that a custodial sentence was almost inevitable for this offence. Mr. Allen urged the court to say there were no aggravating features and the term of imprisonment could be short.

Crown Counsel Kenneth Ferguson did not object to an adjournment and the matter was set for Friday, 15 July.