LEGISLATORS, after weeks of intense deliberations, have agreed to the Government’s proposal for the imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years for adults who commit capital murder.
The proposed change, under Section 3 (1C)(a) of the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA), is that, where a capital murder has been committed, the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole moves from 20 to 50 years.
Members of the joint select committee reviewing this Act along with two other pieces of related legislation – the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act, and the Child Care and Protection (Amendment) Act – approved the proposed amendment during a lengthy deliberation at a meeting on Wednesday.
Before arriving at a consensus, members expressed varying views about what the minimum sentence for capital murder should be, with some proposing a 40-year sentence.
Opposition Senator Donna Scott Mottley said that while she supports sending a strong message, through sentencing, of how abhorrent one feels towards murders, “as a legislator I think it is my duty to show some balance”.
She said she believes that the increase in the minimum sentence from 20 to 50 years is “far too dramatic”, and proposed that the 20 that now obtains should be doubled instead.
“I find the jump to be extraordinary. I find just the thought of serving 50 years in prison, is to me so repulsive, think 50 years is just too long. My compromise is 40 years,” she said.
Even while conceding and “going along” with her colleagues, Government Senator Sherene Golding Campbell said, “I also want it recorded that I’m not really so happy about the methodology by which we come to these decisions.”
However, Government members Donovan Williams and Senator Charles Sinclair said they were in full support of the 50 years mandatory minimum for capital murder. Williams said he was in agreement, given the egregious nature of capital murder and the fact that there is possible recourse to the accused under the Plea Negotiations and Agreement Act.
Chair of the committee Delroy Chuck stressed that the executive is very firm that punishment for murder must reflect public sentiments and the public interest.
“And I think to the fair, the public sentiment and the public interest is asking for harsher punishment for capital offences. The feeling is that for the last 30 years or so, we have had far too many cases of murder being committed in a small country, and even though other measures are being used, the feeling also is that sentence should also reflect the nature and gravity of the offence of murder,” he said.
He noted as well that mandatory minimum sentencing needed to be consistent with the new Firearms (Prohibition, Restriction and Regulation) Act, which provides penalties ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment for breaches.
In terms of non-capital murder, where the sentence can either be life imprisonment or a fixed term of imprisonment under the OAPA, the committee made some adjustments to the proposal.
Instead of the recommended life imprisonment sentence for non-capital murder of 45 years, the committee agreed that this would be 30 years.
Under Section 3(1)(b), it was originally proposed that the sentence be increased from 15 to 45 years.
The committee also agreed that where a fixed term of imprisonment is imposed, this should not be less than 40 years, and that the convict must serve at least 20 years before being eligible for parole. This was adjusted from the original proposal of 35 years.
Deliberations on the remaining Bills are expected to conclude next week. It has also been proposed that under Section 42(F) of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act, the term of years to be deemed as life imprisonment increases from 30 to 50 years when the offence committed is murder.
Under the Child Care and Protection (Amendment) Act, it is being proposed that children convicted of murder serve a mandatory sentence of 20 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.