A teenager who pleaded guilty to unlawful wounding was sentenced last week to 15 months’ imprisonment, but that term was suspended after Justice Michael Wood heard arguments based on the defendant’s age.
Defence attorney Rupert Wheeler submitted that the defendant was still a child under Cayman’s Children Law, which defines a child as “a person under the age of 18”. He accepted, however, that once a person is 17, “they come under the jurisdiction of the adult criminal justice system”.
He also noted that, “If one looks [at the] UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, 18 is the magic number at which point somebody becomes an adult.”
The defendant before the court was more or less halfway through her 17th year when she committed the offence, so she was “a true 17 year old” at the time, Wheeler said. He therefore was asking for a private hearing of the matter.
Crown counsel Garcia Kelly pointed out that the offence was committed in public and was one that “caused quite a stir in the community”. He said the community had to learn what the decision of the court was in relation to the offence.
In passing sentence, the judge said that for the purpose of this hearing, the defendant was to be referred to as “a young girl of 17, and her name is not to be published or passed on to anyone at all. If anyone does so, it would be a clear contempt of court, which is punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. I hope I made myself clear”.
He summed up the incident, which occurred in the latter half of 2018, when the defendant and the victim had “a verbal altercation” outside a gas station on Eastern Avenue.
The altercation occurred after the victim sent the defendant a number of threatening text messages and voice notes. He quoted a number of rude and crude remarks. All of them were accepted as messages directed not just at the defendant but also at her grandmother.
The court viewed CCTV of the complainant entering a premises and attacking the defendant.
The defendant then left the premises.
She accepted that she encountered the complainant outside and cut her once on the left side of the chest with a kitchen knife.
She was not thinking clearly following the attack and lashed out irrationally, he commented.
“You were, in my judgment, sorely provoked, but what you should not have done is pick up a knife and go after [the other girl],” he told the defendant.
He referred to her unfortunate background and said sentencing for a child or young person should focus on rehabilitation where possible. A custodial sentence should almost be a last resort.
He quoted from UK guidelines, which point out that children and young people are not fully developed and have not attained full maturity. It is important to consider “the extent to which the child or young person has been acting impulsively and whether their conduct has been affected by inexperience, emotional volatility or negative influences”.
He said this defendant had been making extraordinary progress and had responded well to recent support provided to her.
He added that the stabbing had caused a one-inch penetrating wound, but it had not punctured a lung and recovery had been complete.
He therefore imposed a sentence of 15 months, suspended for two years, and a period of supervision for two years. “That means if you commit any offense punishable by imprisonment within the next two years, you’ll go to prison for the sentence I just passed upon you, plus anything for the new offence.”
He said he was giving her a chance and asked that she not let him down or anyone else who was supporting her.
“The abuse you have suffered, combined with provocation that day, led in my view to this incident,” he concluded.