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Champagnie urges caution over mandatory minimum sentence for firearms

Champagnie urges caution over mandatory minimum sentence for firearms

Posted  284 Views updated 8 months ago

Attorney-at-law Peter Champagnie, QC, yesterday urged members of a joint select committee reviewing the Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act, 2022 to give consideration to exceptional circumstances in which it would be a grave injustice to impose the statutory mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years on a person for possession of a firearm.

Champagnie, however, made it clear that he was not shy to declare his full support for mandatory minimum sentence, which was crafted in the proposed statute.

Section 5 of the proposed law indicates that any person in possession of a prohibited weapon commits a felony, and upon conviction, could face life imprisonment or a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.

Citing a recent case of Albert Paulton v The Queen (2022), Champagnie said that the man in his late 40s, who was a crane operator, found himself in a situation where a gunman who was being chased by the police ran into his house and demanded that the gun be concealed.

“Within seconds, the police entered the room, and Mr Paulton said: ‘Officer, this man just ran in here gave me this thing to put up. See it there in a pan on the whatnot.’ Both were accosted and put before the court,” Champagnie explained.

He said Paulton took issue with the case, and the matter went to trial in the Gun Court, and he was found guilty.

Champagnie, one of the lawyers who represented Paulton, reasoned that there was no contest in terms of the allegation, adding that the issue was whether he had the intention to possess the firearm.

Paulton appealed the decision of the Gun Court and Justice Brooks, one of the justices who heard the appeal, found that the circumstances surrounding the case were unusual but affirmed the conviction. Paulton was not given a custodial sentence but placed on 12 years’ probation.

“With the bill as it is now there is absolutely no provision for a situation like that were it to unfold a year from now during the lifetime of this legislation, if passed, for Mr Paulton to see less than 15 years in prison.”

Champagnie said that legal practitioners across the country can attest to the fact that “there are exceptional circumstances”.

The defence attorney said that a recent decision by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) suggests that the regional judicial body was not “particularly keen on the concept of statutory mandatory minimum sentences.

“I say that against the background that we appreciate this idea and move towards Jamaica becoming a republic, and I say with the greatest of respect that the CCJ may not find favour in terms of the statutory mandatory minimum sentence,” he maintained.


The defence lawyer is also batting for DNA tests to be done in instances where the police claim that they have taken an illegal firearm from the waistband of an accused.

He argued that of the four trial courts that operate in Kingston, an estimated 40 per cent to 50 per cent or more of the cases involve allegations in which the police take an illegal firearm from an individual.

Champagnie said he has found that in many cases where persons were accused of possession of a firearm, it was the results of the DNA tests requested by the Independent Commission of Investigations that caused them to escape jail time as the evidence did not support the charge against them.

Committee Chairman Dr Horace Chang acknowledged the concerns, noting that he would not want an innocent person to be imprisoned for possession of a firearm.

Chang, who is also the minister of national security, and his colleague minister of legal and constitutional affairs, Marlene Malahoo Forte, expressed surprise that Paulton was charged by the police.

“What is happening to Mr Paulton here is something that happens extensively in inner-city communities. I think the police, as they are being trained now, would take this into consideration in the majority of the cases,” Chang said.

Committee member Senator Sherine Golding Campbell had a word of caution for policymakers and her fellow lawmakers.

“When we are putting things in law which are going to subject our Jamaican citizens to restraint on their liberty, we really have to examine what the circumstances are and how we do that,” she said, arguing that she has seen cases in which the discretion of a judge saved defendants from what would have been “a most unjust situation”.

The senator urged policymakers to produce appropriate data to support legislative decisions that would affect members of the society.


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