Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett is slated to hand down his sentence today (Monday) on former police officer Ettitan Charles, on firearm and ammunition charges.
Burnett found Charles guilty of a charge that on Sept. 17, 2018, at Arnos Vale, he had in his possession one black and silver Smith and Wesson .38 revolver serial number unknown, and six rounds of .38 ammunition, without a license issued under the Firearm Act.
In his mitigation, on Wednesday, Charles’ lawyer, Israel Bruce, asked the court to impose a suspended sentence.
However, prosecutor Sergeant Cornelius Tittle told the court that prison sentences are almost automatic for firearm and ammunition offences and he saw no reason to depart from this.
Bruce argued that according to the sentencing guidelines, the offences should be considered consequence category 3 and level C seriousness
He said that Charles is the father of five children, aged 8 months old to 12 years, for whom he is the main breadwinner.
The lawyer also said that his client’s father is blind and suffers from bleeding in the brain and his mother is diabetic and Charles helps to take care of both of them.
“His family, mother, father and children, circumstances all beg for this court to do what … [deceased lawyer] Author Williams would say. ‘This is one case where I ask the court to temper justice with mercy’,” Bruce said.
“These children, I beg, should be given an opportunity to not have to line up every three weeks to collect social assistance from the government and taxpayers of St. Vincent…
“Otherwise, let him be a burden on the state and let his children and his parents, also be a burden on the state.”
Bruce said that the only aggravating feature of the offence is that it can be argued that an unlicensed firearm in the Vincentian society is aggravating.
He said that mitigating was that Charles volunteered to take police officers to Arnos Vale to give them the firearm and ammunition, to the extent that they said he did so and the court accepted the prosecution’s version.
The lawyer said that Charles has a conviction for conspiracy to commit burglary, adding that what the conviction record would not show is that he was found not guilty of theft, linked to that same conspiracy charge.
Bruce said that the Crown has “gone to the Court of Appeal with one half of the conviction”. He asked the court to be guarded in its consideration of the conspiracy conviction.
He noted that at age 36, Charles has spent one third of his life serving the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines as a police officer.
His children are aged 12, 11, 9, 7 years and 8 months old.
“It is said to be a dominant feature of police officers,” Bruce said, adding that most police officers who are not married end up finding a girlfriend in the areas where they are stationed.
The lawyer said that while awaiting trial, Charles secured employment with Reliable Construction
Charles assists his blind father in moving around, including taking him to the doctor and also provides financial assistance.
His mother, who was in court, is unemployed and depends on his assistance to help meet her needs, the lawyer said.
“These young children are likely to be gravely affected if Ettian Charles is given a custodial sentence. That is the long and short and the gravamen of my submission and my mitigation before your court this morning.”
He asked the court to apply the totality principle, adding that the presence of the ammunition is built into a similar and single set of facts and circumstances.
“And without having to rehash the arguments that were before the court, the physical trauma that Mr. Charles experienced himself. Your Honour, heard the evidence. One of the officers said he was brought to Central Police Station in nice and proper shape and the other said when he was brought there, he saw him bleeding.”
Charles has alleged that police officers, including Commissioner of Police Colin John beat him after his arrest, an allegation that John has denied.
“There are other jurisdictions that might entertain those arguments. I say to you at this point that the consequential and seriousness matrix of the case requires a non-custodial sentence in keeping with the sentencing guidelines,” Bruce said.
“Whereas it may be looked at and said that as a man who has experience and opportunity in the police force should never have come to this position, none of us who have come to this earth are not fallible,” Bruce said, adding that prime minister, presidents and premiers have found themselves in worse off condition.
In response, the prosecutor said that he agreed with some parts of Bruce’s submission but said that the offences should be considered consequence category 3 and seriousness level B.
He said this should give a starting point of 40% of the maximum sentence of seven years.
Tittle said there was no aggravating factors of the offence but added that the surrender of the firearm was not voluntary.
The prosecutor said he would give Charles credit for assisting the police, as opposed to saying he voluntarily surrendered the firearm.
Regarding Charles’ convictions record, Tittle said they are convictions, pending the outcome of any appeal.
The prosecutor said that while he understood the mitigating factors in relation to Charles’ parents and children, the offences are “serious, too prevalent in our small state and it is almost automatic that a custodial sentence is applied and I do not see any great exceptional circumstance to so depart from these guidelines”.