Dangerous driving sentence upheld

Four years not excessive for ‘first date’ offences, court says

Four years was not in the least excessive as a sentence for Murphy Kencer Powell’s conduct on the night of 30 January, 2011, the Court of Appeal said last week. 

Powell was sentenced in Grand Court for wrongful confinement and dangerous driving after events that started as a first date with a woman he had met the previous night. 

Attorney Selicea Rankine argued that the 18-month sentence for dangerous driving was excessive because the maximum is two years, nobody was injured and Powell pleaded guilty. Further, she said, the sentence should have run concurrently with the two and a half years for wrongful confinement because the offences arose from one course of conduct. Finally, she asked the court to consider whether the total sentence was out of proportion to the level of criminality involved. 

Powell, 38, had pleaded guilty to wrongfully confining the woman in his Ford F-350 truck by refusing to stop and let her out after she said she didn’t want to have sex with him. The woman was able to reach into her handbag and dial 911 on her cell phone. She made it seem as if she was talking to Powell, but was alerting 911 to their location as he drove from South Sound to East End and back again. (Caymanian Compass, 25 November, 2011). He also admitted driving dangerously to evade police after the woman left his vehicle. 

In response to Ms Rankine’s submissions, Crown Counsel Tanya Lobban pointed out that Powell had previous convictions for offences against women. She also noted that a precedent case of dangerous driving cited by Ms Rankine had occurred before sentencing guidelines were established in 2002. 

Justice John Chadwick, president, gave the court’s judgment after consulting with Justices Abdullah Conteh and Anthony Campbell. He referred to the remarks of Justice Charles Quin, who had explained the factual basis for the sentence he imposed. 

He said both Powell and the woman were coming out of romantic relationships and were exploring the possibility of a relationship between them. They spent the Sunday together and when Powell was driving her back to her car he told her he was going to sleep with her. She refused, saying it was too early in the relationship. 

At that point his attitude changed and he began driving in a fast and erratic manner. She was unable to get out because of the speed and his unwillingness to stop and let her out. In the course of the 40 minutes or so that this behaviour lasted, she was taken to a dark and desolate location along High Rock Road. 

On the way back from East End, Powell speeded up when he saw a police car behind him. But he slowed down in the vicinity of Countryside Village shopping complex in Savannah and the woman was able to jump out of the truck. Once she left the vehicle, the offence of wrongful confinement was no longer being committed, the judge emphasised. 

The officers who had observed Powell’s truck shouted at him to stop, but he sped off after reversing as if to ram the police car. The manner of driving that occurred from this point was not with the woman in his vehicle. He drove at speeds greater than 78mph, hit a fence (where his licence plate fell off), and ran a red light at the Compass Centre junction. So dangerous was the chase that the officer in charge called it off out of concern for public safety. Two weeks later, Powell gave himself up. 

Justice Chadwick agreed that Powell was entitled to some discount for his guilty plea, but the sentencing judge had said it was extremely fortunate that Powell did not crash into innocent road users while driving as he did. With two years the maximum sentence, the Court of Appeal was not persuaded that Justice Quin had erred in considering 20 to 24 months as his starting point or that the discount was less than it should have been for the guilty plea.  

The court also found “no substance” in the argument that the dangerous driving arose from the same incident as the wrongful confinement because that offence had been completed. They were separate, although committed one after the other. The possible link was that Powell was seeking to escape apprehension for the first offence. 

As for the overall sentence, Justice Chadwick asked, was four years excessive for what happened that night? Plainly no, he said. Powell had put the woman in serious terror and then put the public at risk of serious injury. “His conduct that night was appalling. He has no mitigation but his guilty pleas,” the president stated.  

Powell’s sentence included two years disqualification after release from prison. The court left that as is. 

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