The pleas of a prosecutor and a lawyer on behalf of a man who beat his girlfriend was not enough to save him from prison.
Shawn Collis, 39, of Dubois was handed an eight-month prison term on Monday after pleading guilty to a charge that on Oct. 5, at Pembroke, he wounded Shanice Williams, 23, of Cane Grove.
“Counsel and prosecutor, I hear both of you. I don’t deviate from the guidelines. Eight months in prison,” Kingstown Magistrate John Ballah said as he handed down the sentence.
In presenting the facts, Police Constable 196 Constantine told the court that Williams and Collis were in a relationship for the six months before the incident.
On Oct 5, about 7 p.m., she was about to leave her workplace at Greaves Marketplace, in Pembroke, when Collis approached her.
He began to question her in an aggressive manner about an incident that occurred the previous day.
He then proceeded to hit Williams in her face and on her neck.
Shortly after, the manager of the supermarket observed what was happening and approached Williams and asked her if she was OK.
Collis left and when Williams left the compound, he followed her and he continued to beat on her.
Williams’ father, Calvert Cupid, interceded and parted the fight.
The virtual complainant sustained injuries and reported the matter to the police.
Police Constable 108 Chambers conducted an investigation, leading to the charge being brought against Collis.
On Monday, at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court, Collis, who did not have a lawyer, said he did not punch the woman but had slapped her “two, three times”.
Responding to questions from the magistrate, he further said he did not hit Williams with an umbrella.
He said that prior to the incident, she did not tell him that the relationship was over.
“Why did you go to her workplace?” the magistrate asked Collis.
The defendant said he had taken something to Williams, knowing that she was about to finish work.
He said that he works in construction in Buccament Bay.
“Is this the first time you’re hitting this young lady?” Ballah asked.
Collis said “Armmmm” then paused, as if trying to decide the response. The magistrate told Collis that if he could not remember, it meant it was not the first time.
Ballah then asked Collis how many times he had hit Williams before and he said he could not remember.
The magistrate asked if Williams was present in court and the prosecutor, acting Corporal of Police Shamrock Pierre, told him she was not.
In arriving at his sentence, the magistrate said the guidelines suggested a starting point of 20% of the maximum of seven years. He, however, started a little below that, at one year.
He said aggravating of the offence was the fact that Williams and Collis were in a relationship.
“And this smacks of domestic violence,” Ballah said, noting that Collis had admitted that it was not the first time that he had struck Williams.
He noted the disparity in their ages and the court added three months, bringing the sentence to one year and three months.
He said there was nothing mitigating of the offence.
As regards the offender, Ballah noted that Collis had no previous conviction for offences of violence.
He said that because of Collis’ good character, the court reduced the sentence by three months.
“He is not remorseful because it is not the first time he struck her. He struck her so many times he can’t even remember,” Ballah said, but noted that Collis had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.
For his early guilty plea, the court granted a one-third reduction in the sentence, which removed four months.
“Counsel, I see you watching me. You have any mitigation you have to make on his behalf as to why the court should move away from the sentencing guidelines?” Ballah told Counsel Roderick Jones, who was sitting at the Bar table but was not involved in the case.
Jones told the court he knows Collis, having taught him many years ago at Bethel High School.
The lawyer said he was shocked that Collis had found himself in that situation.
“I didn’t think then that he has predisposition to violence but circumstances have changed,” Jones said, adding that he had never heard of Collis running afoul of the law “except this isolated occasion”.
The lawyer told the court that Collis, for all intents and purposes, still remained a virgin to the law.
“In the circumstances, on his behalf and as a friend of the court, I believe that a non-custodial sentence ought to be considered,” the lawyer said, adding that he was not sure if hospitalisation had occurred.
The court told him that was not the case and the magistrate further said according to the guidelines, a custodial sentence was warranted.
Jones, however, said the guidelines also allow the magistrate to exercise some discretion.
Ballah responded: “This is domestic violence, where we have a history in St. Vincent and the Grenadines where we don’t take these things seriously and sometimes women get killed, even men get killed.”
Jones told the court he was aware of the gravity of domestic violence but the court must also be mindful not to “crowd our jails with matters of this nature when so many other more serious matters would come before the court”.
The lawyer said it was regrettable that Collis had found himself in the situation, adding that he also believed the defendant could benefit from a very stern warning and a non-custodial sentence.
Meanwhile, Pierre, invited to respond to Jones’ submission, said the court knows his stance when it comes to such matters.
“It is a first offence. Given the gravity — the injury and to my mind it is not serious,” he said, adding that he shared Jones’ view and was not looking for a custodial sentence for young men, especially first-time offenders.
“Young men? He is an old man,” Ballah said.
Pierre continued: “You can see that he is frightened. Clearly, he is frightened. I know the court normally does not deviate from the sentencing guidelines, but I think this is an exceptional case.”
“Where are the exceptional circumstances that would cause the court to move away from the guidelines?” the magistrate asked.
Pierre said Collis was a first-time offender and Williams’ injuries were not serious or life-threatening.
The prosecutor said he did not think there was any significant impact on Williams or she would have been in court.
“I don’t want to be mitigating for the defendant but that is just my stance when it comes to matters of this nature,” the prosecutor said,
“Clearly it is a domestic situation where the egomatic (sic) part of him got the better part of him,” Pierre told the court.