Suspended sentence for taking turtle

Magistrate orders 120 hours of community service

Magistrate Valdis Foldats handed down an eight-month prison term, suspended for two years, and 120 hours of community service to a fisherman who illegally took a turtle from Cayman waters.

Ivan Samosa Bush, 24, pleaded guilty to taking an adult green turtle from the sea on Aug. 3, 2017. He said he had not gone out to catch a turtle deliberately, but had “snagged” it while fishing and decided to keep it.

The magistrate explored the numerous possible penalties when he sentenced Mr. Bush on Tuesday for the offense of taking a protected species from local waters.

The penalty section of the National Conservation Law provides a range of sentencing options, the magistrate noted. One is a fine of up to $500,000. Another is imprisonment for up to four years.

The court can also make an order “prohibiting the offender from doing any act or engaging in any activity that may result in the continuation or repetition of the offense.” In effect, the magistrate pointed out, he could ban the defendant from fishing for any length of time.

He considered a three-month ban, saying, “I think that’s enough for a wake-up call.” He also commented that would-be offenders would become aware of what the court could do by way of sentence.

After hearing from defense attorney John Furniss about Mr. Bush’s background, however, the magistrate decided he would not take away the defendant’s only means of earning a living.

He said the sentence had to show denunciation of the offense and had to be a deterrent. After reviewing previous cases involving the taking of turtle, he said the simplest way to send a message would be to say, “One turtle equals one year.”

In this case, he gave one-third credit for the guilty plea, which resulted in a term of eight months. He then suspended the sentence for two years and ordered Mr. Bush to perform 120 hours of community service.

The magistrate referred to another option in the law’s penalty section – “directing the offender to perform community service in a protected area or in furtherance of the conservation of a protected species.”

He asked Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson to check whether specific programs were in place that would enable him to make such an order. Mr. Ferguson said he would make enquiries. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush is to perform community service as is generally provided for in the Penal Code. “If it can be directed to marine conservation, that would be wonderful,” the magistrate said.

Other sentencing options include the forfeiture of any vessel or vehicle or item used to commit the offense.

In this case, the magistrate indicated he did not have enough details about the offending to make such an order.

A summary of the offense stated that officers on patrol responded to information from an anonymous member of the public after an adult turtle was observed on the back of a truck. Investigation led officers to an East End address, where they spoke to the defendant. The turtle was found in a shed on the property. It was released back into the sea.

When interviewed, Mr. Bush initially told officers he was following a family tradition. He indicated he did not know it was an offense to take the turtle.

“If you didn’t know, you should have known,” the magistrate told him. “If you’re a fishing person, you should know the law in relation to all the creatures of the sea.”

After passing sentence, he urged Mr. Bush to find out the law, know about every fish and every open or closed season.

If you value our service, if you have turned to us in the past few days or weeks for verified, factual updates, if you have watched our live streaming of press conferences or sent an article to a friend... please consider a donation. Quality local journalism was at risk before the coronavirus crisis. It is now deeply threatened. Even a small amount can go a long way to sustaining our mission of informing the public. We need our readers’ financial support now more than ever.