Declaring that the maximum penalties attached to some gun-related crimes “make no sense”, a High Court judge has urged legislators to review existing laws to provide harsher sentences for people who use firearms in the commission of other crimes.
Justice Carlisle Greaves said this would send a message to gun-toting criminals that when caught, they would not get off easy.
He made the call on Friday as he sentenced three Parish Land, Christ Church residents – Damien Shavaine Proverbs, Joel Omar Hunte and Nathaniel Renaldo Robinson – for the armed robbery of Monsta Grill and Bar on June 18, 2015. Proprietor Elvis Graham was shot during the robbery.
The judge imposed a starting sentence of 14 years in prison on the trio, but that was reduced to six years for Proverbs and five for each of the other two when several factors were considered.
He said the “unfortunate thing” about this case was that the law in relation to robbery under the Theft Act provided for a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment, even if a gun was used by an offender.
“Regardless of whether the person perpetrated the crime is unarmed; whether he is armed with a knife . . . whether he is armed with a firearm and whether somebody got injured during the episode –15 years. Whether he has done it before – one time, two times or ten times – the maximum penalty is 15 years.
“I have been advocating for some time that those in authority for making laws should revisit these . . . particularly when firearms are used to commit these offences,” he contended.
He continued: “Some of these penalties make no sense. Take, in this case for example, one of the men has a previous conviction for possession of a firearm and ammunition but he robs a man – or several people in this case – and he is charged for that robbery and his penalty maximum is 15 years.
“Take another example in this case: At the time of the commission of the offence, all of these accused men were on bail for other offences.”
Justice Greaves suggested that lawmakers consider adopting a provision similar to one in the Firearms Act 1972 in Bermuda where he previously worked.
“What that does is remove the complexity of a court having to say in a case such as this – a robbery where a firearm was used – that the use of a firearm is an aggravating factor and thus the sentence should be increased,” he said, noting that under the existing legislation in Barbados, “the sentence is still 15 years at maximum”.
Under the legislation in Bermuda, the court first has to decide what the sentence for a robbery should be, and if a firearm was used in the offence, “that time is 10 years for first offence, up to 20 for the second offence”.
“I do not have that provision available to me in this jurisdiction but I really hope it happens soon. We have to do more than what we are doing now to stop this gun tide. It seems our young men are not listening,” Justice Greaves said.
“Some may be upset by what I say but I care not. If all, like me, care about this country we can wrestle this firearm menace to the ground very shortly. Our young men must get it that we will get them if they don’t change their ways.
“The bane of this country is the prevalence of firearms. It seems that our young men are wearing firearms like they carry cellular phones. It seems to be a badge of honour to be carrying around a firearm. Not a pen in their pockets, not a book in their arms, not a certificate to their names, not a positive contribution to this country [but] mayhem they seem to be determined to inflict upon us with the use of these firearms,” the judge added.
Justice Greaves said that in addition to the mentioned provision working well in Bermuda for many years, that was assisted by speedier trials – another thing he called for here.
“I have been a voice crying in the wilderness about the need for speed in these cases,” he said, noting that the matter before him took seven years to reach conclusion.
He described the matter as “a bad case”.
“In this enterprise, a man was shot several times even while he laid on the ground, and received some lashes. For what? Because he had the audacity to establish a business in the community catering to the needs of the people and providing employment for some; visited by a group of young men who have made no contribution to the society, have wasted their opportunities, every one leaving school without certification but considered it is alright to arm themselves with firearms and take that which they did not earn,” Justice Greaves said.
The trio had robbed Elvis Graham, the operator of Monsta Grill and Bar, and three of his employees of almost $7 000 in cash as well as cellular phones and jewellery, which brought the value of stolen items in their heist to $12 335.