Robert Aaron Crawford has been found guilty of possessing a handgun and live ammunition without a licence and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Grand Court Justice Charles Quin, who delivered his verdict Wednesday after a judge-alone trial in Grand Cayman, agreed to adjourn sentencing of Crawford – who will turn 20 years old in custody on Sunday – until after the first of the new year. Judge Quin set Crawford’s sentencing for Tuesday, 8 January, noting that since he is remanded in custody, it will take probation officers longer to see Crawford than it does for defendants on bail. Another factor is the Christmas holidays.
Prior to trial, Crawford had pleaded not guilty to possessing a Stock German Luger handgun with six rounds of ammunition in the early hours of Friday, 18 November, 2011.
The Firearms Law has long had a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $100,000 upon conviction for possession of unlicensed firearms. In 2005, the legislature amended the law to make mandatory a minimum sentence of 10 years. The law was amended again in 2008 to give a discount for a guilty plea and provide for exceptional circumstances.
Now the law states that in a case where the individual pleads guilty, the court shall impose a sentence of imprisonment for a term of at least seven years, with or without a fine; and in any other case where the individual is convicted, the court shall impose a term of at least 10 years, with or without a fine.
But the amendment goes on to add an important clause. The court shall impose these sentences of at least seven or 10 years unless the court is of the opinion that there are exceptional circumstances relating to the offence or to the offender which justify its not doing so.
Defence attorney Nicholas Hoffman said his client knew full well the consequences of the verdict: “Everyone on the island knows that,” he observed. Nevertheless, Mr. Hoffman said Crawford should have the benefit of a social inquiry report before sentencing takes place.
Evidence heard during the trial was that police officers were at a night club parking lot when a citizen complained that someone had pulled a gun on him. When the citizen and officer went to the car Crawford was driving, the complainant said, “That is the man who pulled the gun on me.” The officer told Crawford to turn off his engine. Instead, when the civilian punched at him, Crawford drove off at a speed.
He drove so fast he crashed into the guard rails near the Island Heritage roundabout on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway. Officers who had been pursuing the car with siren and flashing lights saw two men get out of the crashed car and leave the scene. Each officer picked a man to follow and the one chasing Crawford told him repeatedly to stop. Instead, Crawford ran down the highway.
As he did so, he took something from his waist and, as he ran with it in his right hand, the officer saw it was a silver-coloured gun, six to eight inches in length.
The officer then saw Crawford run into the bush on the side of the road and saw him throw something across his body into the bush. Crawford was caught a short time later. Police searched the area where the pursuing officer said he had seen the gun thrown; after they obtained a metal detector, the Luger was found.
Justice Quin visited the scene during the trial, waiting until 8.30pm to see what the lighting was like at night, have distances pointed out to him, and identify the area of the chase and where the gun was found.
Crawford did not give evidence. His attorney suggested that he ran from police because he wasn’t qualified to drive and he had been drinking. Mr. Hoffman pointed out that DNA testing had excluded Crawford from the profile obtained, but a contributor to that profile had been identified. He emphasised that there was no fingerprint evidence and no gunshot residue evidence.
Mr. Hoffman argued that the officer who chased Crawford was not lying, but had simply assumed Crawford had a gun because another officer had told him so. When Crawford moved his hand to his waist front, he was merely pulling up his trousers.
After the gun was found, an officer took a photograph of it. Later, the Scenes of Crime officer came and took pictures. The first photo showed the gun. The second photos showed the gun with a bullet near the top of it. Mr. Hoffman said somebody must have moved the gun or else placed the bullet there. He also criticised the handling of the exhibits, noting that the bullet outside the gun was not kept separate from the bullets in the magazine inside the gun.
Mr. Hoffman asked for an acquittal on the basis that there was reasonable doubt because the judge could not rely on the integrity of the officers and could not be sure of what he had been told.
Crown Counsel Tricia Hutchinson said the explanation that the gun breech opened and the bullet fell out was no more speculation than that the bullet was planted. She observed it would be absolutely remarkable for an officer to just happen to have the right kind of ammunition to put by the gun.
In any event, this situation did not detract from the offence. The sole issue: Did Crawford have the gun?
Justice Quin said the case stood or fell on the evidence of the officer who chased Crawford. He asked himself the usual questions concerning identification: How long had the officer seen the gun? (30 to 40 seconds – not a fleeting glance.) At what distance? (18 feet to 30 metres.) In what lighting? (Bright on the highway, deteriorating in the bush.)
The judge noted that the officer said he had been trained to watch a suspect’s hands when in a chase. He also pointed out there was no evidence that Crawford’s trousers were loose. Finally, Crawford gave no evidence to undermine or contradict the Crown’s case.
Justice Quin said he was sure Crawford was guilty as charged.