A lawyer has raised questions about the High Court’s application of the award of discounts on sentences for accused persons who plead guilty at the first opportunity.
In keeping with the sentencing guidelines, if they plead guilty at the earliest possible opportunity, an accused person can be awarded up to a one-third discount on any sentence the court is considering.
But Kay Bacchus-Baptiste pointed to an apparent inconsistency in the application of the principle on Tuesday during the sentencing of Travis Williams, who was indicted for murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Justice Brian Cottle awarded the man a 25% discount on his 20-year sentence, bringing it down to 15 years.
Bacchus-Baptiste argued strongly against this and asked what was the difference between Williams’ case and that of Medford Cain.
At his sentencing hearing on Oct. 25, Cain, another of Bacchus-Baptiste’s clients, was awarded the full maximum one-third discount for a guilty plea at the earliest possible opportunity.
Cain was indicted on murder in an unrelated matter, but pleaded guilty for manslaughter, which the Crown accepted.
At Williams’ sentencing, the judge awarded a 25% discount for the guilty plea, saying it had not come at the earliest possible opportunity.
Bacchus-Baptiste, however, argued that her client could have only pleaded guilty to manslaughter at the point when the plea was accepted.
She noted that her client had been charged with murder and had pleaded not guilty to that charge.
The lawyer said that as soon as Williams was offered the opportunity to plead to manslaughter, he pleaded guilty.
But the judge asked if it were not open to Williams to plead to manslaughter at his arraignment.
Williams was arraigned in 2014 but pleaded guilty to manslaughter in September 2019 after asking that the charge be put to him again.
But Bacchus-Baptiste maintained that Williams was charged with murder and that is what he pleaded not guilty to.
She said that when the prosecution accepted manslaughter that is when he pleaded guilty to that charge.
“So I am submitting that it is not correct to say that he didn’t plead guilty to the offence that he is now being sentenced for at his earliest opportunity,” the lawyer reasoned.
The judge said that while he understood the lawyer’s submission, the court was asking if it was open to Williams at any time to plead guilty to manslaughter.
The lawyer, however, said she did not think that was the way to apply the concept of earliest opportunity in respect of the offence with which her client had been charged.
The judge, however, said it was not something he had not considered.
It was then that the lawyer asked the judge what was the difference between Williams’ case and Cain’s case.
“You can’t have it both ways,” she said.
The judge said that in the Williams case, he felt that six years after being indicted could not be considered the earliest possible opportunity to plead guilty.
“But fortunately, Ms Bacchus-Baptiste, there are other persons who you can address these submissions to,” he said, in a reference to the appeal court.
Bacchus-Baptiste however said that is the case except that there are other persons who were given the one-third discount years after being indicted, once the plea was accepted by the prosecution.
“I just wanted to make that point,” she said.