A judge has called for more careful use of electronic tags for criminal defendants after a hit-and-run driver had his jail sentence cut because he had spent nearly 20 months on bail under an electronically monitored curfew.
Immigration officer Nicholas Tibbetts had his jail time slashed under relatively new sentencing guidelines which allow time spent on an ankle monitor to count in part, toward the final sentence.
Tibbetts was initially sentenced to eight months imprisonment on Thursday afternoon for causing the death by careless driving of Donnie Ray Connor in April 2015. That was cut to three-and-a-half months Friday after a last-minute submission from his lawyer.
Acting Grand Court judge Dame Linda Dobbs condemned the “unsatisfactory manner” in which the case was handled, saying she had not been in full possession of the facts, when she delivered her original sentence.
Reconvening Friday, she acknowledged the electronically monitored curfew, restricting Tibbetts to his home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. was a restriction on his liberty and reduced the sentence.
However, she said, he should never have been on an electronic tag in the first place. Justice Dobbs said the tagging regime should be reserved for particularly serious cases where defendants were essentially under house arrest.
“This is a case where, in my judgment, a tag was not necessary,” she added, noting Tibbetts had previous good character and strong family and community ties.
She urged the Department of Public Prosecutions to only seek tags when it was strictly necessary.
“There have been cases where the court has wished to impose an electronic tag only to find there are no electronic tags available. This needs to be carefully and judiciously handled,” she said.
She added that bail cases were given a lower priority in court scheduling than custody cases, meaning defendants with ankle monitors could accrue significant time on bail before being sentenced.
Defendants on tags could potentially “build up credit” because of court delays, she noted.
Amelia Fosuhene, representing Tibbetts, had initially argued that his sentence should be wiped out completely because of the 596 days he had spent with an ankle monitor.
Citing U.K. law, she argued that every two days on an ankle monitor should be counted as equivalent to a day in prison – the approach that is taken in the U.K.
Prosecutor Greg Walcolm said the Cayman Islands Sentencing Guidelines, introduced in 2015, differed from the U.K. and any reduction was at the discretion of the judge as part of the overall sentencing exercise.
Announcing her decision Friday morning, Justice Dobbs said, “Although there was a curtailment of liberty, that curtailment was not substantial. Most of it was during the night during sleeping hours.”
She accepted that under U.K. law, the defendant would have been entitled to a reduction of his jail sentence of 298 days – half the time spent on curfew. But she said the defendant would not have been tagged in the U.K. regime, where such monitoring is reserved for more serious crimes.
She added that the Cayman Islands regime was different to the U.K.
The judge also criticized both counsel for the late submissions in relation to the electronic tagging issue.
“I hope this kind of last-minute approach will not occur in the future,” she said.