What message does this send?
The Court of Appeal made two decisions last week which won’t have escaped the attention of anyone worried about spiralling gun violence in this country.
As reported in The Royal Gazette on Friday, 22-year-old armed robber Jaron Roberts had his sentence for a crime spree involving an imitation firearm cut by almost a third.
And gunman Marico Bassett, also aged 22 and serving 25 years in prison for shooting Randy Lightbourne, was told he’d be eligible for parole two years earlier than originally intended.
While the Appeal panel’s decisions will have been made after careful consideration of the law, they won’t have given much comfort to the countless families in this community who have been directly impacted by gun violence in recent years.
The mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and grandparents who have received the dreaded telephone call in the dead of night about a loved one.
The neighbours left quaking in their beds and terrified for their children’s safety after gunshots have rung out on their street.
Nor can the decisions have provided much of a fillip to the hard-working detectives of Bermuda Police Service, whose caseload of firearm-related offences is dramatically different now than to a decade ago.
To see a suspect brought to court, convicted by a jury and sentenced to an appropriate prison term after diligent investigation of a shooting must be one of the more rewarding elements of an officer’s work.
But to see a sentence commuted after legal arguments, to know a violent gun offender could be back on the streets in less than four years (as in the case of Jaron Roberts) has to be tough to swallow.
Roberts targeted visitors to this Island and refused to testify against his accomplice, who handled the imitation weapon.
The law sets out a minimum mandatory jail term for using a firearm (real or otherwise) of ten years.
Yet the Court of Appeal halved that in his case, concluding his overall sentence of 16 years (including six years for robbery) was “disproportionate”.
Really? Roberts will be eligible for parole after serving little more than three-and-a-half years of his sentence. It hardly seems a harsh term.
Attempted murderer and gangster Marico Bassett repeatedly fired at his victim in the parking lot of the Charing Cross Tavern in Sandys, causing life-threatening injuries and jeopardising the lives of innocent bystanders.
He was convicted by a jury and jailed for 25 years, with the stipulation that he not be eligible for parole until he’d served half that term.
But the Appeals panel — for reasons yet to be given — ruled he should be eligible for release back into society after just ten years.
We are told by our country’s leaders — both this Government and the last — that they will deploy every available resource to get guns off the streets; the guns that have snuffed out 23 lives since May 2009.
That may be so, but without stiff minimum terms for offenders, laid out in clearly-worded legislation which leaves no room for doubt for the higher courts, the rest of us will continue to wonder if Bermuda is really tackling this modern scourge.
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