Murder sentence appeal rejected

Court of Appeal president Sir John Chadwick told convicted murderer Tareek Ricardo Ricketts on Monday that his appeal against a sentence of imprisonment for life must fail “as the law now stands.”

Ricketts, charged with murdering Jackson Rainford on the night of Dec. 16 2012, was found guilty by a Grand Court jury in August 2013. He was 22 at the time. The trial judge sentenced him to the only penalty allowed by law – imprisonment for life.

At present, the only mechanism for anyone serving a life sentence to be released is for the governor to intervene, using her powers under the Prisons Law.

In October 2014, Cayman’s legislators passed a law requiring the sentencing Grand Court judge in a murder case to specify the number of years a prisoner would have to serve before being eligible for release. The minimum tariff would be 30 years unless there were exceptional circumstances.

Known as the Conditional Release Law, it received the governor’s assent in November and was gazetted in December. However, as of April 7, 2015, it was not yet in force. The law itself states that it “shall come into force on such date as the Cabinet may by Order appoint and different dates may be appointed for different provisions of this Law.”

Until then, the Penal Code is the law in force and it has only the one mandatory punishment for murder.

Justice Elliot Mottley raised another problem. He pointed to the Court of Appeal Law. The powers it gives to the three-judge panel includes hearing appeals by a convicted person against the sentence passed on his conviction “unless the sentence is one fixed by law.”

The sentence for murder is fixed by law and so the Court of Appeal cannot deal with it, Justice Mottley indicated.

Sir George Newman, the newest member of the court, asked what was in the tariff law. He told Ricketts, “You won’t be deprived of a remedy. You may not need access here unless it all goes wrong in the Grand Court.”

In announcing his court’s decision, Justice Chadwick said it was expected that the law pertaining to sentences for murder may be changed and there will be some tariff in place likely to apply to those serving life. If that is so, Ricketts may be expected to get the benefit of whatever change in the law there is, but he could not seek the assistance of the Court of Appeal if there is no appeal against conviction. His appeal against sentence, as the law now stands, must fail, the president said.

If the law changes, there will be no need for an appeal against sentence, he pointed out. The law will provide for what is to happen in case of past convictions. If the law does not change, an appeal against sentence for murder will be bound to fail because the Court of Appeal is prevented from interfering, he concluded.

The full title of the Conditional Release Law gives some clue as to why it has not yet come into effect: It is formally “A Law to Provide for the Creation of a Conditional Release Board Charged with the Duty of Making Decisions Regarding Conditional Release of Prisoners on Licence; Provide for the Post-release Supervision of Prisoners Released on Licence and for Revocation of Licences; for Incidental and Connected Purposes.”

Regarding life sentences, the law states that the court shall specify the period of incarceration the prisoner shall serve before the prisoner is eligible to be considered for conditional release on license, the period being such as the court considers appropriate to satisfy requirements of retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation. But for murder, the period shall be 30 years before the prisoner is eligible for conditional release unless there are extenuating circumstances, exceptional in nature, in which case the court may impose a lower period of incarceration; or aggravating circumstances, exceptional in nature, in which case the court may impose a longer period of incarceration.

The law also provides the process by which prisoners serving a life sentence can be considered for a specific sentence. Within 24 months after the entry into force of this law, the Director of Public Prosecutions shall send to the Grand Court the case records of all prisoners serving life sentences and the Grand Court shall pronounce in open court a period of incarceration for each prisoner. The judge would exercise the powers referred to in the paragraph above.

Excluded from this provision are prisoners whose applications for release on license are pending under the Prison Law. A prisoner who is dissatisfied with a decision made under these provisions would have a right of appeal in the same manner as a person being sentenced for the first time.