Big changes ahead for Cayman gun law
Such a provision currently exists in instances where police suspect illegal drugs are being kept in a home, car or are being held by the individual. However, lawmakers have resisted in past years attempts to provide police with the same powers in regard to firearms investigations.
According to the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, 2011: “If a constable or customs officer has reasonable cause to suspect that any person is in possession of a firearm or bullet-proof vest in contravention of this law he may, without warrant, detain and search such person and whether or not any person is detained or searched may, without warrant, break open and search any premises, vehicle, vessel, or thing whatsoever in which he has reasonable cause to suspect that any such firearm or bullet proof vest may be concealed.”
It’s not known when lawmakers would be able to take up the proposal, but it would require approval of the full Legislative Assembly.
In addition to the warrant-less search provision, the amendment bill would allow individuals to be detained by police on suspicion of violating the Firearms Law, or any other criminal offence involving the use of a firearm, for up to 14 days without criminal charges being filed. Currently, police can only hold criminal suspects up to eight days – with the permission of a court – without charging them.
The application to detain a firearms suspect must be made by an officer the rank of at least chief inspector and must satisfy the Summary Court that “there are reasonable grounds for believing that the continued detention of the person….is justified,” according to the law.
“Justified” means that the detention of the person is necessary to secure or preserve evidence in the criminal case or to allow police officers enough time to secure the results of forensic tests.
If the 14-day warrant of detention expires, the person must either be charged or released, according to the amendment bill. If the person is released, they cannot be arrested for the same offence unless new evidence is brought to light in the case.
A Summary Court can extend the original 14-day warrant “for such period as the summary court thinks fit”, but not for more than an additional 14 days for the same offence – 28 days in all without a criminal charge is the maximum time under the proposed revision to the Firearms Law.
In addition to the changes proposed for police searches and length of detention, the bill also sets out the circumstances in which the legal ‘burden of proof’ would rest on the suspect in firearms cases, rather than on the Crown. The issue was discussed by Police Commissioner David Baines earlier this year.
Mr. Baines said what was being reviewed with the attorney general’s office was essentially a “reversal” in the burden of proof for people found in possession of unlicensed guns in their homes or vehicles.
“The burden of proof is now for us to demonstrate possession of that individual of that gun,” Mr. Baines said. “That will be changed. If you are found to have a gun in your car or a gun under your bed without any reasonable excuse … it is deemed to be in your possession and under your control.”
According to the Firearms [Amendment] Bill, 2011, “where it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt” that the person had possession of a firearm or bullet-proof vest, imported anything containing a firearm or bullet-proof vest, or supplied anyone with such an item then “it shall be presumed, until the contrary is proved” that the individual knew of the firearm or vest being present in the location it was found.
The changes proposed in the amendment bill would obviously apply only to unlicensed firearms. It is legal in Cayman for private citizens to possess a firearm if the proper licence and safety procedures are maintained.