In Summary Court on Wednesday, Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn drew attention to the website of the U.S. Department of State, which now lists the Cayman Islands in its travel advisory section.
She quoted information posted there while dealing with a visitor who pleaded “guilty with explanation” to possession of 20 live rounds of .38 ammunition. The bullets were found in his carry-on luggage at Owen Roberts International Airport on Feb. 5 when he was preparing to leave Grand Cayman.
The man explained that he had a firearms license in his home state and he had gone on a hunting trip a couple of weeks before his trip to Cayman. He had used the bag for his clothes and toiletries and when he returned his wife took out all the clothes and put the bag on the floor by the closet.
When getting ready for travel to Cayman, his wife asked if they would need a souvenir bag, “so I just picked it up and folded it and put it in the luggage. We bought souvenirs and used the bag as a carry-on,” the defendant told the court.
He said he had no idea the ammunition was still in the bag and he was truly sorry. He considered himself a responsible person and said he would never have knowingly committed such an offense.
After a brief adjournment in which Crown counsel Stacey-Ann Kelly checked another aspect of the case, the magistrate quoted from the State Department website.
In a section under International Travel, there is a listing for “Know Before You Go,” she pointed out. Selecting Cayman Islands as a destination brings up local information.
Under a section titled “Local laws and special circumstances,” the website states: “Common reasons for arrest include: Carrying ammunition and firearms into the Cayman islands. (Even a single bullet inadvertently loose in a carry-on bag can lead to arrest) ….
“You are strictly forbidden to import or possess firearms in the Cayman Islands. A Conceal Carry Permit, employment by a police agency, or service in the U.S. Armed Forces does NOT allow you to bring a firearm or ammunition into the Cayman Islands.
“If you travel with firearms, firearm components and parts and/or ammunition to the Cayman Islands you will be arrested and referred to the local courts for prosecution which will result in a substantial fine and/or incarceration for an unspecified amount of time.”
The magistrate also referred to another section of the website – “General Information for Travelers with Firearms.”
She read: “Check your luggage and clothing! If you are using the same luggage for international travel that you did to transport a firearm or ammunition, or taking a vest or jacket you might have carried ammunition in, check them thoroughly for any loose cartridges or other items that might be contraband in your intended destination. To be on the safe side, use an entirely different set of luggage.”
The magistrate continued, “We in the Cayman Islands appreciate the significance of the Second Amendment in the U.S.” (referring to the right to bear arms). She pointed out that with this right came responsibility when a license holder was traveling. Many other visitors to Cayman have been caught on their way out, she noted.
The magistrate said she appreciated that the defendant did not have any ill intent nor did he intend to use the ammunition, but it could have been stolen from him and fallen in to the wrong hands.
In passing sentence, she accepted that there were special circumstances to consider.
The defendant had told the court that he and his brother owned a company and they each had “high security clearance,” which was a requirement for any contract with a federal agency. He said if he had a conviction, he would lose his government contracts and “This would shut the doors of my company.”
The magistrate asked if he had any evidence to confirm what he had said.
He replied that he could phone his brother. Ms. Kelly offered to explain to the brother what would be needed.
The magistrate said she would take a break for this to be done. The brother was contacted and he emailed a copy of a government contract the company had.
When court resumed, the magistrate said the document satisfied her that the defendant did need a clean record to keep the contract. A conviction could have serious consequences for him and for his staff.
She accepted there were special circumstances and asked if the defendant could pay a financial penalty.
He said he had obtained US$2,500, which was all he had in his personal account. His wife had booked him a flight for the next day, but he still had to find a hotel for that night.
The magistrate said she would impose a penalty by way of a cost order instead of a fine so that no conviction would need to be recorded. Noting that US$2,500 was approximately CI$2,100, she set the cost order at $1,600 – or $80 per bullet.
An officer from Customs and Border Control said the defendant had been required to post a cash bond after his arrest.
The magistrate said the cost order could be paid from the cash bond with any balance returned to the defendant.
Court adjourned just before 5 p.m. and the officer thanked Ms. Kelly and the magistrate for holding the late proceedings.