October 23, 2012
Five-year curfew – a novel sentence

Tue, Oct 23, 2012

Commendations go out to Justice Frederick Bruce Lyle for the novel sentence he imposed last week on two young men who appeared before him at the criminal assizes.

The young men, one 21, the other 22, pleaded guilty to charges of attempted robbery; possession of a firearm with intent to commit an offence; possession of a firearm without a licence and possession of ammunition without a licence. These are all very serious charges, and had the young men been successful in what they had set out to do, several innocent people could have been hurt, if not killed.{{more}}

There are far too many illegal guns on the streets of St Vincent and the Grenadines. In 2004, in an effort to stem the problem, Parliament amended the Firearms Act to increase the penalty for possession of an illegal firearm to a maximum fine of $20,000 or seven years imprisonment or both. There were also calls from many quarters for judicial officers to come down severely on offenders to send a message that such activity would not be tolerated in our society.

It must have therefore been difficult for Justice Bruce-Lyle to arrive at the decision he did. He had to find a suitable punishment for the young men, which would deter them and others from committing similar offences, but at the same time, which would reduce the chances of them continuing down the road of criminality. He also had to consider whether by not imprisoning them, they would pose a danger to society.

The judge placed the men on a three-year bond, during which time, if they commit any offence at all, they will have to pay $10,000 or go to jail for 10 years. But that is not the novel part of the sentence. He also placed them on a five-year, 6 p.m to 5 a.m. curfew. During that time, they are required to continue to live with their parents! They cannot decide they want to live on their own. They cannot leave home at night, not even to go to church! If they break the curfew, they will also go to jail for 10 years.

SEARCHLIGHT is of the view that the judge struck a happy medium in his sentencing. The young men have no criminal record, and by placing them in a prison within their homes, he has kept them away from the hardened criminals they would have been exposed to while in prison. The curfew also allows them the opportunity to be able to be productive members of society and earn a living, rather than be a burden on society as an inmate of the prison.

The judge said he took into consideration their age, the fact that it is their first offence and that they were led astray by the Trinidadian who was killed during the incident.

In a sense, while the young men will be able to enjoy the comforts of home for five years, the concept of freedom will be bittersweet, within their grasp, yet out of reach.

But for this sentence to work, our law enforcement and social welfare authorities will need the assistance of the community in which the young men live. Not only should the community members be watchmen to ensure the curfew is not broken, but they have an important role to play in alerting the youngsters to negative influences around them and encouraging them to do what is right.