by Kemarlie Durrant
Just one month into the year 2023, and the Serious Offences Court has seen over 10 new gun related charges for the month of January after the country experienced its highest crime rate last year.
Chief magistrate, Rechanne Browne presides over the Serious Offences Court and she is of the opinion that her court has become a ‘gun court’ this new year.
“For the year I think there has been a gun related offence in this court every day. I think I am operating a gun court for the year…”, the chief magistrate said when she sentenced 18-year-old Joel Williams.
Williams was charged for having in his possession one Glock .27 semi-automatic pistol, and five rounds of ammunition.
She also highlighted the issue when, one day after Williams received a non-custodial sentence, another 18-year-old, Jermaine Andrews, appeared in the court on firearms offence.
During his submissions for Andrews, prosecutor station sergeant, Renrick Cato said, “I’m asking the court that the sentence that is imposed- a strong message must be sent to persons who are in possession of an illegal firearm or who have intention of obtaining an illegal firearm.”
He added, “today is January 25, and I am sure that more than 10 new firearm matters came to this court and the month is not finished yet”.
During every sentencing the magistrate highlights the prevalence of firearm offences in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) as aggravating factors of the offences. On one occasion she described the prevalence of firearm offences as “too rampant.”
The year 2022 was a record breaking year in SVG for the number of homicides, 42.
The year with the previous highest was 2016 when 40 homicides were recorded.
The majority of those murders were as a result of the use of a gun.
Prosecutor, corporal Shamrack Pierre on January 6 told the court, “ 2022 was one of the bloodiest years in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the majority of those homicides were using firearms. We don’t manufacture firearms in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”
“ The question is, where are they coming from?” the prosecutor asked during his submissions regarding the sentencing of Jomodean Alexander and Kevin Lewis who were both sentenced to three years on firearm and ammunition.
Before the chief magistrate sentenced Alexander and Lewis she said, “We have choices, and in the end, it is the choices that we make that affect us. I sit here often and I’m saddened because for the year, I’ve seen no female making any such choices…they are not coming here, but the young, strong men are often here based on their choices.”
Browne has given officers praise for their vigilance when these offenders are taken before the court.
The maximum penalty for possession of an unlicensed firearm in SVG is a fine of $20,000, or seven-years imprisonment.
Lawyer, Grant Connell who has represented a number of the defendants on gun charges is of the view that jail is not always the best answer.
“We need to fix St. Vincent, and fixing St. Vincent does not start by filling our jails,” Connell said during his plea mitigation for Jermaine Andrews last Wednesday.
The lawyer had also asked the court on January 6, to impose a fine on his client, Jomodean Alexander. He said that filling the prisons would not stop firearms from entering the country.
During that sentencing Connell had joined the magistrate in commending Sergeant 403 Nigel John, and his squad of Rapid Response Unit (RRU) officers, who made the arrest of Alexander and Kevin Lewis during a stop and search.
“So, when the Prime Minister says put more boots on the ground, you can’t put no comedy boots. Put more boots like them,” Connell said.
“It is not quantity. It’s quality. No sense mek ah phone call and send Tom Jones for training and the police training a whole set ah dem, and half ah dem incompetent,” the lawyer added.
Joel Williams was the only defendant to escape a prison sentence on his gun charges after the magistrate said she was leaning to comments made by Chief of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS),Justice Janice Pereira at the opening of the new law year that “A regime of punishment is not always the answer, but the restoration of young lives.”
Williams was fined and given specific orders by the court to enrol in a plumbing course and attend youth meetings weekly at the New Birth Christian Soldiers. He will be re assessed by the court after nine months. The chief magistrate also made it known that each case will not be treated in the same manner, but rather, each has to be assessed on its own merit.