Blue Iguana writes: In all the media in the Cayman Islands one troubling theme emerging as a recurrent headline lately is the illegal possession of unlicensed firearms on our shores. What remains notably conclusive is that clearly civilians aren’t the only ones engaging in this particular criminality; even stay-over visitors to these islands have had firearms detected and intercepted at the Owen Roberts International Airport and, more recently, at the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport on the Brac.
Some might argue that more punitive measures are requisite to meaningfully manage and curtail firearm possession and importation, whereas others might say that laxer regulations could potentially lower local gun crime.
Neither assertion, however, will serve as the focus of this commentary. Instead, I wish to make it abundantly clear that, with respect to custodial sentencing on firearm-related offenses, our “esteemed guests”, or stay-over visitors, are inexplicably the recipients of preferential treatment once summoned before a magistrate.
Now, let’s iron out some fundamental facts. Firstly, as outlined in the firearms law, once culpability has been unequivocally established, the judiciary can impose a minimum of ten years imprisonment for those possessing a firearm without a valid licence. Secondly, whoever contravenes this law could alternatively pay a fine of one hundred thousand dollars.
Thirdly, as CNS recently reported, Cayman judges have never imposed a mandatory minimum sentence for unlawful possession of a firearm to any visitor since the law took effect. Fourthly, had it been one of our own countrymen abroad committing the same offense in the US, no magistrate would ever deviate from his or her impartiality to allow a convicted Caymanian to escape with a petty monetary fine because of ignorance of the law. Hypothetically, the foreseeable fate would be time behind bars.
Given that customs officers are reportedly observing these offenses with regularity, why are we not replicating the same reality here in our judiciary towards non-residents?
In my view, the lack of knowledge regarding a foreign country’s firearm laws is neither an adequate defense nor a plausible excuse to dodge incarceration. If the judiciary opts to prosecute both residents and visitors alike, the existing legislation must be applied uniformly.
No exceptions. Period.
With that said, legislators should amend the law and make it such that visitors are no longer gifted the luxury of an easy escape card. Doing so would signal a stern message to residents and visitors that the judiciary does not discriminate, whoever comes before the courts.
To my understanding, there’s yet to be a court case in which a local has been found guilty of illegal possession and has been solely imposed a fine as opposed to a taxpayer-funded vacation to HMP Northward.
Even if there was such an instance, what criteria must be satisfied in order for a resident to pay the prescribed financial penalty? The law as it stands now fails to provide a list of the conditions under which a magistrate can impose a settlement in lieu of jail-time. The former is seemingly more commonplace among nonresident American visitors, whereas the latter appears more customary for Caymanians or residents.
Questions remain and hopefully some answers can be gained.