The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on Monday appealed the Summary Court sentence for a couple who pleaded guilty to breaking COVID-19-suppression regulations.
Earlier this month, Skylar Mack and Vanjae Ramgeet were each sentenced to 40 hours of community service and ordered to pay $2,600 to cover mandatory quarantine accommodation.
Appearing before the Grand Court on 14 Dec., DPP Patrick Moran told Justice Roger Chapple the sentence imposed by Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez was too lenient and did not adequately reflect the wishes of Parliament.
“These offences should have been met with far more stringent measures,” said Moran. “When it comes to a matter of deterrence, the sentences imposed are likely to have little to no effect on other like-minded individuals.”
The breach occurred on 29 Nov., when Mack, 18, removed her geo-fencing bracelet and attended a jet-ski event undetected. Mack’s partner, Ramgeet, 24, who was participating in the watercraft event, was charged with aiding and abetting her.
In calling for stiffer penalties for both respondents, Moran told the court Mack and Ramgeet both planned the breach, they both interacted with members of the public for more than seven hours, and during that time neither of them wore a mask nor practised social distancing.
“There is nothing exceptional about either defendant that should have warranted the sentence imposed by the lower court,” said Moran. “Taking into account the balancing act, these offences should have attracted a custodial sentence and, subject to their ability to raise the funds, they should have attracted a greater financial penalty over and above that of the costs of the Crown picking up the pieces.”
Moran did not say what he thought the correct monetary value of the fine should have been. However, he did suggest that the offence should have resulted in between four and six months in prison.
Attorney Jonathan Hughes, who represents Mack and Ramgeet, told the court that Hernandez was right to have imposed the sentence she did.
“There is no way that it can be right that a custodial sentence is imposed for a first-time offence on an 18-year-old defendant, who entered an early guilty plea,” said Hughes. “The magistrate was correct to have taken into account the severity of the breach, as well as the youthful ignorance and selfishness of the defendants.”
Hughes told the court that since the incident both defendants have paid a significant toll.
“Ms. Mack has paid her fine in full from her savings, which resulted in a significant portion of her funds being depleted,” said Hughes. “She has received hate mail, so far as to say even death threats. This has even impacted her father, who is also a professional jet-ski rider and has now lost sponsorship because of it.”
Hughes told the court that Ramgeet was stripped of his victory at the recent jet-ski event, and the prize money/medals/trophy were all to be returned; he was required to write a formal apology to the Cayman Islands Watercraft Association, and he would be banned from riding in the first few races at the start of the next season.
When asked by Chapple how much weight, if any, should he place on the public outrage, anger and anxiety caused by the breach, Moran responded, “As much as possible.”
The justice did not give his ruling today, but, because Mack and Ramgeet are due to finish isolation tomorrow (15 Dec.), Chapple said he would attempt to provide a decision by 9:30am Tuesday.
Mack and Ramgeet both watched the proceeding via video link.
This week, Ramgeet and Mack each issued a public apology to the Cayman Islands through their lawyer.
In a letter sent to Cayman Compass on 13 Dec., Mack said she has been a frequent visitor to Cayman and “has nothing but the utmost respect for the country and its citizens”.
“I am aware that the Cayman islands Government has done nothing but dedicate extreme caution to combat the spread of COVID-19, for this the country and its citizens can be extremely proud; I made a mistake, and words cannot express how sorry I am for this,” said Mack.
“I was afforded the opportunity to enter the islands during these trying times and I abused it. I am humbly asking for the forgiveness of the community.”
Ramgeet said, “… I should have known better than to put our community at risk as I did. I made a decision without thinking about the long-term effects it would have on our community; words cannot express how truly sorry I am for the anxiety, frustration, and inconvenience that you all have experienced.”
Neither letter was offered up as mitigation during the appeal proceeding because they were not included in the original sentencing hearing.