Citing the “massive increase” in firearm offenses in Cayman over the last seven or eight years, Justice Charles Quin on Monday suggested there should be a minimum sentence for possession of ammunition without a license.
Justice Quin made his comment in the sentencing of Jay Calvert Ebanks, 23, who had pleaded guilty to illegal possession of 10 rounds of ammunition. Ebanks, recently found not guilty of possession of an unlicensed firearm, was sentenced to time served. He had been in custody since August 2016 and was bailed last Thursday – a total of more than 12 months.
Justice Quin said, “It is stating the obvious, but firearms and ammunition need each other. A gun without ammunition cannot discharge a bullet and kill or cause grievous bodily harm. Ammunition by itself causes no harm. When you have the two together – that is when victims are killed and that is when victims sustain grievous bodily harm,” he pointed out.
“In my view, if we seriously want to control future firearm offenses, consideration should be given to a minimum sentence for the illegal possession of ammunition. That’s obviously a matter for the legislature,” the judge said.
He commented on the Grand Court sentence passed earlier this year in the case of Kimesha Walters, who had appealed a sentence of 10 years for possession of four unlicensed bullets. Justice Michael Wood had called that sentence “clearly unlawful” and substituted a term of imprisonment of three months.
Justice Quin said he found this sentence to be too lenient.
He also shared his view that it was “odd” for the Firearms Law to include ammunition in the definition of what a firearm is, but not impose a minimum sentence for ammunition, although there is a minimum sentence for lethal-barrelled weapons – the other items included in the definition of firearm.
He referred to the numerous cases of possessing ammunition without a license that come to Summary Court. They almost invariably relate to tourists, he pointed out. More often than not, the tourists had a license in their home state, but the ammunition became illegal once he or she landed in Cayman.
The tourist was usually unaware of the fact that possession of ammunition is illegal, he continued, adding, “Local residents cannot be under the same misunderstanding.”
Ebanks intentionally had possession of 10 rounds “with full knowledge of the country’s stern approach to firearms and ammunition,” Justice Quin said.
In his view, the starting point for persons possessing 10 rounds of live ammunition should be two years. In Ebanks’s case, there were no aggravating features, the judge said, although he found the defendant’s story of finding the bullets while walking his dog to be implausible.
However, Ebanks had pleaded guilty early and cooperated with police. The judge considered his good work record and character references. Tragically, Ebanks had lost his father when he was 6 years old, but had a close and loving relationship with his mother and contributed financially to the maintenance of the family home. His mother had provided a strict but supportive upbringing.
These mitigating factors reduced the two-year starting point sentence to 18 months, the judge determined. With one-third credit for the guilty plea, he further reduced the sentence to time served – 382 days, from Aug. 29, 2016 to Sept. 14, 2017.
He urged Ebanks to stay away from all ammunition, all individuals who have anything to do with illegal firearms, and all illegal drugs. He noted that the social inquiry report had referred to Ebanks as a very good footballer. Injury might have affected his ability to play, but he could do coaching, the judge suggested, “so you wouldn’t waste your talent and knowledge.”