A student who brought home an air rifle without a license to import it was fined $4,000 on Monday, but no conviction was recorded against him after the magistrate found there were exceptional circumstances.
Kaleb Leslie Ebanks was also ordered to perform 240 hours of community service and attend any counseling directed by the Department of Community Rehabilitation over the next two years.
Ebanks had previously pleaded guilty to importing and possessing a .177 Daisy 880 Powerline multi-pump pneumatic air rife and a box of pellets on April 6, 2016. He was 21 at the time and coming back from school in Florida with his belongings.
As Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez summed up in her sentencing remarks, Ebanks was coming through Customs at Owen Roberts International Airport when he was asked what was in his luggage. He said school supplies. When the luggage was examined, the air rifle and box of pellets were discovered.
Ebanks told the officer the rifle was “a toy,” as it was sold to children over 14 in Florida. It was in its original Walmart box. He said he intended to use it to shoot iguanas around his parents’ house.
Crown counsel Darlene Oko and defense attorney John Furniss agreed that the air rifle fell within the definition of firearm because it was a lethal-barreled weapon, meaning it could cause death or injury.
The Firearms Law sets a mandatory sentence of seven years on a guilty plea unless there are exceptional circumstances relating to the offense or the offender. The magistrate said she was satisfied that in this case, there were exceptional circumstances.
She referred to a 2009 decision from the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal in which a two-year sentence was reduced to 12 months for possession of an unlicensed air rifle.
Mr. Furniss submitted that Ebanks’s circumstances were different. In the 2009 case, the defendant had imported the air rifle. He then became aware of the requirement to have a license for it and took preliminary steps to obtain one. But before obtaining a license, he took the air rifle away from his own premises and shot vermin.
In contrast, Mr. Furniss pointed out, Ebanks’s air rifle never left the Customs area of the airport and was therefore never in a place where it could fall into the wrong hands. Ebanks had possession of the air rifle in Cayman a matter of minutes rather than hours or days.
The attorney acknowledged that his client’s main difficulty was that he did not immediately declare the gun when asked what was in his luggage. But he argued that there was no deliberate intent to deceive and the magistrate agreed, given that the air rifle was in its original box.
She also agreed that Ebanks was a bright young man who had trained under a government scholarship to be an aviation engineer. She observed that after his arrest last year, he returned to school to complete his studies. He had no previous convictions and was involved in community work through his sports team. She commented that he was more guilty of “gross” or “youthful” ignorance than he was of willfully committing an offense.
Given Ebanks’s character, antecedents, age and the circumstances of this case, the magistrate said she was satisfied that justice would be served by the imposition of the fine, community service and the requirement to submit to the Department of Community Rehabilitation. No conviction was to be recorded, she confirmed.
Speaking directly to Ebanks, the magistrate said she knew he probably had friends who shared the same view he had about air rifles. She told him he needed to let them know the consequences he had escaped. The magistrate ordered the forfeiture of the firearm and ammunition.
Ebanks was given one month to pay the fine.