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Four-Year Sentence For Gun Possession Was Constitutional

By LAMECH JOHNSON

Tribune Staff Reporter

ljohnson@tribunemedia.net

A MAN’S four-year mandatory minimum punishment for unlicensed firearm possession was constitutional, said a Supreme Court judge yesterday.

While noting the Crown’s submission that 28-year-old Galen Forbes’ application for resentencing was an abuse of process, Justice Bernard Turner disagreed with the Crown’s contention that a ruling on the matter would undermine the Court of Appeal’s decision where it found that Forbes’ punishment was proportionate and appropriate given the prevalence and use of firearms in violent crimes.

Justice Turner noted that the issue of unconstitutionality had not been raised at the appellate court.

However, he said he would not extend the same declarations made in September by then Senior Justice Jon Isaacs in the Barrington Robinson case on the unconstitutionality of the mandatory minimum sentence possession of dangerous drugs.

The judge, who said he was not bound by the decision though but had considered it, ruled that the sentence for the crime prescribed by the amended Firearms Act did not infringe Forbes’ right to protection from inhumane treatment under Article 17 of the Constitution.

Robinson was sentenced to four years imprisonment in February 2013 after he pleaded guilty to having 14lbs of marijuana with intent to supply.

Forbes, who in December 2011 was arrested for possession of an unlicensed firearm a month after Parliament reintroduced mandatory minimum sentencing, was convicted in January 2013.

Despite the magistrate’s views that there were strong mitigating factors in Forbes’ favour, she was constrained to follow the statute, which required her to impose a sentence in the range of four to seven years.

Forbes was arrested in Freeport on December 5, 2011 after a police officer searched him and found a 9mm pistol in his back pocket, according to the evidence.

Constable 2934 Barr testified that based on a tip from an informant he went to the Bahamia Mall in Grand Bahama, where he saw Forbes behaving in a suspicious manner. Barr said he called a patrol car and Forbes ran as it approached. Forbes was caught and police found the firearm in his back pocket.

During an interview with police, Forbes is reported to have said he had the gun for his protection. Forbes denied the charge and claimed that Barr framed him because there was animosity between them over their mutual interest in a woman.

A month following the decision by Senior Justice Isaacs, defence counsel for Forbes appeared before Chief Magistrate Joyann Ferguson-Pratt arguing that this should apply for her client because although it spoke directly to the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act 2011, it applied across the board to all mandatory minimum sentences because the constitutional motion was made on the issue of unconstitutionality.

The chief magistrate acknowledged the point and said that she wished to make the matter a priority and refer it to a higher court.

Murrio Ducille represented Forbes in the Supreme Court proceedings while Garvin Gaskin, acting Director of Public Prosecution, represented the Crown.

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