Teen’s sentences reduced from 16 years to nine

Total was excessive, Court of Appeal agrees

Elmer Walter Wright, who turns 19 next month, had his sentence of imprisonment for robbery and firearms offences reduced after Attorney Nick Hoffman argued that the teen should have been dealt with according to his age at the time of offending. 

On Friday, Court of Appeal president Sir John Chadwick announced that the three-judge panel was setting aside sentences that added up to 16 years and substituting terms totalling nine years. 

The basis of Mr. Hoffman’s argument was that Wright had reached the age of 16 years nine months when he took part in a robbery at Mostyn’s gas station in Bodden Town and then, after a chase, fired a shotgun in the direction of police officers as he was trying to escape. His age meant that legally he was a young person at the time.  

By the time Wright’s trial concluded and he was found guilty, he had passed his 18th birthday and was therefore an adult. Justice Algernon Smith sentenced him as an adult, imposing 12 years for the robbery, 10 years concurrent for the possession of an unlicensed firearm and four years consecutive for the unlawful use of the shotgun (Caymanian Compass, 11 November 2011). 

The appeal court said the judge ought to have asked himself what was the likely sentence if sentence were passed on the date of the offence, when Wright was still 16. If he had asked himself that question, he would have found guidance in the UK sentencing guidelines. 

During arguments, the Crown had accepted that the mandatory minimum of 10 years in the Firearms Law would not apply if Wright had been before the court under the Youth Justice Law. It was further pointed out that when the judge came to consider sentencing, he was not directed to authorities in the English courts. 

Mr. Hoffman had also argued the principle of totality – that the total sentence was manifestly excessive. The appeal court agreed that the judge should have asked himself if the aggregate sentence of 16 years was excessive for someone 18 at the time. 

The court set aside the 12 year sentence for robbery and imposed seven years. For possession of the unlicensed shotgun, the sentence was changed from 10 years to seven, to run concurrently. A sentence for unlicensed ammunition was also concurrent. 

The court said the judge did not err in principle when he made the sentence consecutive for the firing of the shotgun. However, keeping in mind the totality factor, two years of that four-year term will run concurrently. The effect is that Wright will serve an aggregate of nine years. 

In addition to the president, the appeal was heard by Justice Elliot Mottley and Justice Abdulai Conteh.