A defence lawyer has offered suggestions to deal with the prevalence of firearms and consequential firearm-related offences here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Grant Connell, who has been and continues to be in the forefront in the representation of persons on firearm-related charges, is suggesting an Amnesty with a financial reward, for persons who surrender their illegal firearms within the Amnesty period.
He is also recommending an increase in the maximum penalty for possession of a firearm, or ammunition without license, but that increase must be accompanied with an amendment to Section 30 of the Criminal Code, so that a suspended sentence could be applied in certain circumstances. He underscored that each case has its own peculiarities.
“The custodial sentence would still be imposed, but suspended, thereby allowing the offender who, on the evidence, may not be a threat to society, nor would the prison environment have the desired effect, and may instead ruin his life, thus defeating the whole objective and the four pillars of sentencing”.
He identified those pillars as prevention, rehabilitation, deterrence, and retribution.
“Although there are guidelines of the Supreme Court for sentencing in cases of this nature, a strict and rigid application of those guidelines may create a scenario where the guidelines and the pillars of sentencing could be on a collision course.
“There are cases where a youngster makes a genuine error that does not warrant him going behind the prison walls. If a suspended sentence is imposed, it would give him the opportunity to prove that he made a genuine error,” the lawyer explained, on Monday, shortly after representing two of three youngsters who appeared at the Serious Offences Court on firearm and ammunition possession charges.
Connell pointed out that currently, the maximum penalty for firearm or ammunition possession, without license, is seven years imprisonment; and though the law gives the option of paying a fine, that option has not been applied by the Court in recent times. He pointed out that Section 30 of the Criminal Code deals with the issue of suspended sentences, but as it is now, a suspended sentence does not apply to offences of firearm or ammunition possession.
And Connell is also suggesting that the law in relation to sentencing for offences of this nature be reviewed.
As it stands now, possession of firearms or ammunition carries the same maximum penalty of seven years, as that of marijuana possession.
“You have compressed marijuana which has proven to benefit this country physical, through medical marijuana, and financially, in excess of $15 million in License fees, compared to a deadly weapon (guns) that is reaping havoc on our streets,” Connell argued.
In his proposed Amnesty, Connell said that the financial reward for bringing in an illegal firearm, within the stipulated period, should depend on the calibre of the gun surrendered.
“It is $500 to have a license for a firearm, so that could be a guide.
“There are too many illegal guns on the street. Something has to be done, or we will become a gangster paradise.
“Filling our jails with youngsters on firearm charges is not going to solve the problem.
Something has to be done to save the Nation’s youth,” Connell implored.