DPP explains position on 40-year minimum life sentence

JAMAICA’S chief prosecutor Paula Llewellyn, King’s Counsel, has described as “tempered” recommendations by her office for a 40-year minimum life sentence instead of the present 30 years for murder convicts who have pleaded guilty, pointing out that to take it higher would backfire.

The proposal was placed on the table following the recent decision by the Court of Appeal’s to reduce the 31-year pre-parole sentence handed down to Quacie Hart, who is serving a life sentence for murdering 14-year-old Jamaica College student Nicholas Francis in 2016.

According to the Appeal Court, the trial judge erred in arriving at the sentence handed down by using a starting point of 40 years when life imprisonment is deemed to be 30 years in the law. On that score the Appeal Court set the sentence aside and instead reduced the time to be served by Hart to 20 years.

“When the judgement was handed down, when we thought about it, we decided that given the state of crime in the country where in our case files and the police as well have been seeing very heinous crimes bearing in mind that the Criminal Justice Administration [amendment] Act which had indicated that life imprisonment was deemed to be 30 years in 2015, given what is happening as a matter of policy, we could recommend to the executive that they could consider increasing the number of years to 40 years for capital murder,” Llewellyn said on Thursday.

The DPP, in responding to views by some members at a Rotary Club of Kingston meeting that 50 years would have been a more appropriate period, said, “what the court was saying is that the starting point cannot be more than what the law deems to be life imprisonment in circumstances where the accused has pleaded guilty.”

“I understand why you would recommend 50 years; it brings into light the dilemma that not only the judiciary may face but also the policymakers [the executive] who have political responsibility to their constituents. It’s the executive not necessarily the judges who would be obliged to answer the public clamour for more, but I ask myself the question how far do they go because you have to look at what obtains now [such as the hundreds of cases before the courts for trial for this session],” the DPP reasoned.

“I thought it was the tempered, measured way to go because if it is that the executive goes too far in seeking just to not look at the consequences of going to the extreme, say they go up to 50 or 60 is it that nobody would plead guilty?every case would [then] go to trial and it would cause an even greater backlog,” she noted, pointing out that the “buss the case mentality” of Jamaicans would mitigate heavily should the number of years go higher.

“So at the end of the days, it is a matter of balance and I believe that 40 years is still showing that the executive is registering the public angst and anger at some of these horrible cases of murder that we are seeing while still leaving the judiciary with some latitude,” she said further.

In noting the “public outcry” in the wake of the Appeal Court’s decision, the DPP said “seeing the real pain and agony” of the youngster caused her to reflect on various aspects of the process.

She noted further that while sentencing is the way for the court to show its abhorrence for the crime that has been committed and courts do not have to reflect public opinion; on the other hand, courts cannot disregard the fact that punishment must fit the offender as well as the crime.

“Sentencing is one of the most difficult aspects of the function of a judge. You ask yourself, ‘Is it that the law was an ass why the sentence was reduced?’ No, it is not, contrary to some cynical views. But you have a set of principles that govern sentencing. I hope members of the judiciary do not believe that I am being presumptuous but it struck me that they don’t have the leeway I would have as director of public prosecutions to seek to educate the public,” the DPP stated.

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