Thursday, 23 February 2023 12:27

Killers put on notice again: Up to 50 years for murder on the horizon

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Killers have again been put on notice that they will be put away for a long time when caught and convicted.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck tabled in the House of Representatives, the Offences Against The Person (Amendment) Bill and the Criminal Justice (Administration) (Amendment) Bill that, when overhauled, are expected to significantly lengthen prison sentences for murder.

In doing so, Chuck in an accompanying statement, argued that “the reputational damage to brand Jamaica resulting from the exceedingly high murder rate and the perceptions of insecurity in the country, cannot be overstated.”

He added that, “The reputational damage suffered from the abnormally high rates of intentional homicides and, by extension, the impact on the country’s GDP, the debilitating strain placed on the Jamaican populace from the daily loss of life by violent means, demands that the penalties imposed send the clear and unmistakable message to potential killers, that murderers, when caught and convicted, will be severely punished.”

He added that, “There is a very real and urgent need to treat with the scourge of crime in a decisive manner.”

In the future, persons found guilty of capital murder could face up to a half a century behind bars.

The justice minister outlined that the increased mandatory minimum sentences will provide greater alignment between the sentencing regimes governing serious crimes and the public’s expectations of the justice system.

“The possibility of the imposition of a more punitive sentence will go a long way in preserving the credibility of Jamaica’s justice system in the eyes of individuals traumatised by the untimely death of their loved ones,” he said.

Chuck lamented that Jamaica has the highest homicide rate among 22 Latin American and Caribbean countries, in the region of 45 murders per 100,000 members of the population.

“Our extreme reality necessitates that the legislative framework governing mandatory minimum sentences for murder surpass the average threshold used in other jurisdictions. These legislative amendments will aid in the fight against the country’s soaring crime rate, by ensuring that the applicable penalty matches the severity of the crime,” he said.

The proposed amendments to the Offences Against The Person Act will:

- increase the mandatory minimum sentence for imprisonment under Section 3(1)(b) from 15 years to 45 years;

- increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole, where the offence is capital murder, from 20 years to 50 years under (3(1C)(a) which deals with eligibility for parole;

- increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole, where the sentence is imprisonment for life, from 15 to 40 years under section 3(1C)(b)(I); and 

- increase the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole, where a sentence of a term of years is given, from 10 years to 35 years under 3(1C)(b)(ii).

Amendments to the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act will change section 42(F) by increasing the term of years to be deemed as “life imprisonment” from 30 years to 50 years where the offence committed is murder.

“The starting point for calculating the reduction in the sentence is usually life imprisonment, and the aim of this proposed amendment is to maintain an incentive scheme for defendants to plead guilty, while ensuring that the reduced sentence is not inordinately low having regard to the serious nature of the offence,” Chuck explained.

“It is in tandem with this very reasoning that we also propose that section 42(E)(3) of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act be amended to stipulate that the court shall not impose a sentence that is less than a term of 30 years,” he added.

Chuck said a proposed amendment to the Child Care and Protection Act, generally in line with the objective of the two bills, is to follow in short order.

He said the bills are shortly be put before a Joint Select Committee of Parliament for further consideration and discussion.