Robert Aaron Crawford, 19 at the time of his offence, receives the mandatory minimum sentence
Ten years in prison is a long time, Cayman Islands Grand Court Justice Charles Quin agreed, but it is meant to deter other people who may be thinking of committing the same offence – in this instance, possession of an unlicensed firearm.
Justice Quin passed sentence last week in the case of Robert Aaron Crawford, who was found guilty last October after choosing to be tried by judge alone (Caymanian Compass, 2 November).
The offence was discovered in the early hours of 18 November, 2011, when police officers responded to a report of someone having a gun outside the Grand Pavilion complex on West Bay Road in Grand Cayman.
Crawford was in a vehicle and did not comply with an officer’s request to come out of the car. Instead, he drove from the scene at high speed with other officers giving chase. Crawford lost control and crashed in the vicinity of the Island Heritage roundabout on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway.
He and a passenger ran from the car and each was pursued on foot by one of the officers. Crawford was seen pulling a gun from his waist and, shortly afterward, throwing it into the roadside bush as he ran.
The officer eventually apprehended Crawford and a search of the area recovered a Stock German Luger handgun loaded with six, 9 millimetre rounds of ammunition.
There has long been a maximum sentence of 20 years for possession of an unlicensed firearm. In 2005, the Legislative Assembly established a 10-year minimum. Later, the law was amended again to allow a discounted sentence for a guilty plea – seven years – and consideration of exceptional circumstances. In Crawford’s case, Justice Quin noted the submissions of defence attorney Nicholas Hoffman, who asked the court to take a holistic view of the offence and the defendant’s age.
Mr. Hoffman submitted that there was no suggestion the firearm was going to be used to commit other offences or for any ulterior motive. Apart from the firearm being loaded, there were no aggravating features. Crawford had no previous convictions for firearms or violence.
A social inquiry report revealed that he was raised in a dysfunctional environment with one parent using drugs and the other serving several prison sentences. Crawford therefore had no moral compass and grew up into a young adult who acted on the spur of the moment and did not know how to deal with difficult circumstances, Mr. Hoffman said.
Justice Quin also referred to local firearm cases, as reviewed by Senior Crown Counsel Tricia Hutchinson. Sentencing factors included number and type of previous convictions, whether or not there was cooperation, and circumstances in which the firearm was recovered.
Ms Hutchinson said that although there was no evidence of Crawford’s intention to commit any further offence, there was danger that the gun could fall into the hands of someone who did have an intention to commit a further offence. She also referred to Crawford’s attempt to evade apprehension.
Justice Quin considered all of the above submissions, noting that Crawford still denied the offence and denied being the driver of the vehicle so that he was unaware he was being chased by police. “This, regrettably, is contrary to all evidence and makes it extremely difficult for defence counsel to make any further mitigating submissions [on Crawford’s behalf].”
The judge also referred to an assessment that indicated Crawford’s “very high” risk of re-offending within one year of release. “I hope that he will make full use of the opportunities which will be afforded to him for rehabilitation at HMPS Northward in order to equip himself with skills which he can use to lead a crime-free and productive life in the many years which will lie ahead of him after his release,” Justice Quin said.
He also commended the officer who apprehended Crawford, citing his quick thinking and quick action despite the defendant’s persistent efforts to avoid detection.