Proposed mandatory minimum sentence to move to 45 years from 15 years
Jamaica’s Justice Minister Delroy Chuck this afternoon (January 24) unveiled the Government’s plan to impose harsher sentences on murder convicts by moving the minimum sentence to 45 years in prison.
This is up from the minimum penalty of 15 years in prison.
The proposal is in line with the recommendations made by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, which were influenced by last November’s decision by the Court of Appeal to reduce, to 20 years, the 31-year prison term that convicted killer, Quacie Hart was ordered to serve before being eligible for parole.
Hart is serving a life sentence for the stabbing death of 14-year-old Jamaica College student, Nicholas Francis, during an altercation on a bus on October 26, 2016.
In a statement to Parliament, Chuck said: ”The extreme situation in Jamaica warrants a deviation from the conventional sentences imposed in other jurisdictions, to go beyond the average mandatory minimum sentences.”
Increasing mandatory penalty
According to him, “an increase in the mandatory minimum sentence as well as amendments to the section of the (Offences Against the Person Act, OAPA) Act treating with the possibility of parole (3(1C)) for murder, are seen as legislative strategies to treat with the soaring crime rate negatively impacting the country, whilst ensuring that the applicable penalty matches the severity of the crime”.
In this regard, the Government is proposing to amend the Act as follows:
· In Section 3(1)(b) of the OAPA to increase the mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment from 15 years to 45 years.
· In Section 3(1C) regarding eligibility for parole for capital murder, 3(1C) (a) – increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole from 20 years to 50 years.
· For non-capital murder, where the sentence given was life imprisonment, increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole from 15 years to 40 years; and where the sentence given was a term of years, increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole from 10 years to 35 years.
Chuck told the House of Representatives that “the Government is firmly of the view that these proposals achieve the objective of ensuring that the potential sentence matches the seriousness and gravity of the offence whilst remaining within the realm of constitutionality by preserving some degree of discretion in the Courts and allowing the possibility of a subsequent reconsideration of the court’s position. It ensures that in the reasonable and deserving cases, the circumstances of one’s case could be reconsidered to determine the appropriateness of continued incarceration”.
Bill to be tabled in Parliament
In very short term, he advised that a Bill will be laid in the House, reflecting the Government’s position on the appropriate penalties to be applied to the offence of murder.
“A clear and unmistakable message must be sent to potential killers that their wanton and heartless act will be met with disgust, repugnance and a lengthy period of incarceration,” Chuck declared.
“Having taken a life, the offender cannot and should not be allowed to enjoy the remainder or most of the remainder of his life freely and unburdened.”
He is inviting comments from persons to indicate their position and recommendation on the proposed penalties. As such, he is inviting public discussion on the matter, noting that “the extreme situation in Jamaica warrants a deviation from the conventional sentences imposed in other jurisdictions, to go beyond the average mandatory minimum sentences”.
Chuck acknowledged that the imposition of a minimum mandatory sentence of imprisonment for murder exists in other jurisdictions such as South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom and certain States in the United States, ranging from a low of 15 years to a high of 30 years.
He pointed to Jamaica’s homicide rate, which is among the highest in 22 Latin American and Caribbean countries, which characterises Jamaica as the second most dangerous country in the world with a homicide rate of 43.85 per 100,000.
Public demand for harsher penalties
The minister referenced his Government’s position for imposing harsher sentences on what he said is “an increasing clamour from victims and interested parties in support of the imposition of harsher penalties, many of whom have openly expressed that justice was not served for them or their relatives who were victims of violence”.
Said Chuck: “There is therefore a need for enhanced alignment between the sentencing regimes governing serious crimes in Jamaica and the expectations of the public of the outcomes from the justice system.”