Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne has, yet again, added her voice to the chorus lamenting the prevalence of illegal guns in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
On two consecutive days this week, she said that the Serious Offences Court, over which she presides, has become “a gun court”.
“I think every day [this year] there has been a gun-related offence in this court. I think I am operating a gun court this year and then we are hearing of gun hauls in different parts of SVG,” she said on Tuesday.
She was at the time sentencing 18-year-old Joel Williams, of New Montrose, who pleaded guilty to possession of a pistol and five rounds of ammunition without a licence, on Oct. 3, 2022, at New Montrose.
The magistrate made the same observation again on Wednesday as she presided over the case in which Jermaine Andrews, of Cane Garden/Barrouallie, pleaded guilty to possession of a 9 mm pistol, make and seal number unknown, without a licence issued under the Firearms Act.
The firearm was loaded with an extended magazine containing 24 rounds of 9 mm ammunition and Andrews pleaded guilty to possession of the ammunition without a licence.
He has been remanded to prison until Feb. 1, for sentencing.
The chief magistrate’s comments on Tuesday came even as she decided not to jail Williams for his crime.
Previously, people caught with unlicensed firearms in St. Vincent and the Grenadines should expect a prison sentence, except in extreme cases.
However, Browne said her decision not to jail the teen was guided by the comments of Chief Justice Janice Pereira, who said at the Jan. 10 opening of the new law year, “A regime of punishment is not always the answer, but the restoration of young lives”.
The facts of the case are that on Oct. 3, 2022, Sergeant 151 Morgan of the Special Patrol Unit headed a party of officers on mobile patrols about New Montrose.
PC577 Henry, a member of the party, saw Williams walking along the public road toward the police vehicle.
Henry and PC1067 Ollivierre approached Williams and requested a search of his person, to which he consented.
Henry found the pistol containing five rounds of .40 ammunition in Williams’ left back pants pocket.
When cautioned, Williams responded, “Officer, ah mines.”
Williams was found walking along with Omarie Sergeant aka “Vincy”, 24, who denied a charge that he had in his possession of one Smith and Wesson 45 firearm, serial number HSD3385 and nine rounds of .45 ammunition without a license issued under the Firearms Act.
He was convicted during a trial in which the court heard that police saw the handle of the weapon protruding from Sergeant’s left pants pocket and jailed for five years.
The firearm had a laser light attached and a round of the ammunition was chambered.
Connell, as part of his mitigation on Williams’s behalf, submitted a social inquiry report and told the court that a pastor and plumber were willing to work along with Williams with a view to rehabilitating him.
In handing down her sentence, the chief magistrate noted that the court had indicated that it was leaning to a non-custodial sentence, based on the direction given by the chief justice at the ceremonial opening of the new law term.
The chief magistrate said she has to tailor her sentence to ensure that young offenders make a more meaningful contribution to society.
“Of course, each case would be considered on its facts and circumstances because not all young persons who will come in this box will escape a custodial sentence,” Browne said.
“And that is not to set a precedent, it is just having heard the circumstances,” she said.
In his mitigation, Connell pointed out that it was Williams’ first offence, he dropped out of secondary school and had no previous conviction.
He argued that prison would have a corrosive effect on Williams and would affect his prospects of landing a job because of the stigma of incarceration.
After considering the sentencing guidelines, Browne concluded that the consequences of Williams’ crimes were high, and placed it in category two with seriousness at level, high.
“So, the circumstances were particularly serious with this young man,” she said and established a starting point of 65% of the maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment.
“If it was a custodial, it was over 3.5 years and it would have gone up, depending on his plea. The court could also impose a fine of EC$20,000,” Browne noted.
She said the prevalence of gun-related offences in SVG is aggravating, and commented that it seems that hers is a gun court.
Further aggravating, Browne said, was that the firearm was carried openly in a public place, in Williams’ back pocket as he was walking down the road.
“Just crazy when you think of the facts surrounding the case,” Browne said and noted the time of night and the area in which the offences were committed.
“There was a shooting incident not too far away on the same day and this area was plagued with firearm offences…” the chief magistrate observed.
The court, however, felt that Williams’ possession of the firearm and ammunition could have resulted from coercion, or intimidation.
“He was caught with an older — not by many years — more seasoned person,” Browne said.
She began with a fine of EC$13,000 and added EC$6000 because of the aggravating features of the offence.
When the one-third was subtracted for the guilty plea, Williams was left with a fine of EC$10,000.
For the ammunition, he was ordered to pay EC$1,500 by Jan. 24 or three months in prison.
On the firearm charge, Williams was ordered to pay EC$1,500 by Jan. 25, or two months in prison.
He was given until Feb. 10 to pay the balance in order to avoid an 11-month prison term.
The court ordered that the firearm and ammunition be confiscated.
The chief magistrate further ordered that Williams attend youth meetings at New Birth Christian Soldiers weekly, and enrolled in a nine-month plumbing course, to be supervised by Uzzah Pope.
The court is to be presented with reports every three months and Williams must “more-than-satisfactorily” complete the course.
He will be reassessed on Oct. 9, 2023.