The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal sentenced Seth O’Neil Watler to immediate imprisonment of 12 months on Wednesday, after finding his original suspended sentence for knocking a police officer unconscious “unduly lenient.”
Mr. Watler, 25, received a suspended 10-month sentence in December last year, after pleading guilty to causing grievous bodily harm to Detective Superintendent Peter Lansdown. The Crown appealed the sentence.
Court president Sir John Goldring said the sentencing judge had insufficiently regarded the aggravating feature – that the victim was someone in service to the public.
The sentence should have been 15 months, Justice Goldring said. The court, comprised of three judges, recognized that Mr. Watler’s anxiety and distress must have been great after learning that the Crown was appealing his suspended sentence. In recognition of that fact, the court reduced 15 months to 12 months. However, the judge added, that sentence must be served immediately.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran brought the appeal on behalf of the Crown. Defense attorney Jonathon Hughes responded on behalf of Mr. Watler.
Mr. Moran suggested that a prison sentence of two-and-a-half to three years would be appropriate based on the injuries caused to Detective Superintendent Lansdown. He said the sentencing judge, Justice Marlene Carter, appeared to have categorized the injuries as “lesser harm” on the basis that Mr. Watler had struck a single blow.
Mr. Moran noted that the blow was so hard that the officer fell to the ground, where he lay bleeding and unconscious. The injuries were such that Mr. Lansdown received seven stitches to his lip and five stitches to a laceration on his head. He also sustained a fractured rib, with an underlying area of bruising of his lung. The officer spent three days in hospital and, two months later, still had numbness to his upper lip, Mr. Moran related.
This was not a case of a suspect struggling with an officer or being mistaken that he needed to use force in a particular situation, Mr. Moran said – “This was a case of acting in anger over a situation of his own making.”
The encounter between Mr. Watler and Detective Superintendent Lansdown occurred after a single-vehicle accident on the evening of Oct. 14, 2017.
Mr. Moran agreed that the sentencing judge did acknowledge that Mr. Lansdown was a uniformed officer on duty, but he argued that she did not pay sufficient regard to that aggravating factor.
Mr. Hughes, in response, said his argument was straightforward – to be unduly lenient, a sentence must be lower than the lowest sentence that could properly be passed.
In the original case, the judge used a starting point of 15 months and reduced it by a third because of the early guilty plea. The Court of Appeal judges used a starting point of two years, reduced it to 15 months for the early plea, and then to 12 months.
He said Justice Carter had considered the evidence and had heard from the victim/complainant. She still found fit to suspend the “inevitable” sentence of imprisonment, based on Mr. Watler’s previous good character, remorse and the fact that his offense was committed in “a single, unguarded moment.”
Justice Goldring asked about other parts of Mr. Watler’s original sentence – the obligation to perform 100 hours of community service and attend an anger management program.
Mr. Hughes explained that these programs were coordinated by Probation Services and, once the appeal was lodged, Mr. Watler’s participation was “put on ice.”
Orders for the community service and anger management counseling were quashed.