People are entitled to their opinions, just not their own facts. I have great respect for people who hold beliefs contrary to mine, as long as they genuinely believe in the reasons they hold the beliefs they do.
I also understand that as people, we come from different backgrounds and circumstances. Those circumstances help shape who we are as individuals.
As such, I try to understand each person’s perspective and tread lightly before criticizing their views without first trying to see things their way.
I read Chief Justice Bryan Sykes’s comments regarding allegations that judges are giving light sentences to hardcore criminals, to the displeasure of police officers and the larger community.
I knew Sykes as a young officer in the ’80s when he was a court(prosecutor) junior clerk at Half-way ‑Tree Resident Magistrate’s Courts.
No one was under any illusion that Sykes was ever going to amount to an aggressive prosecutor, who had a penchant for going after bad guys.
As per my own assessment, Bryan Sykes was an even-keeled dude who seemingly did not care one way or the other.
As a former police officer who was gung-ho about removing criminals from the streets, Sykes would not have been my choice of a prosecutor, not by a long shot.
Outside of that, I will not engage in ad hominem attacks on the Chief Justice. I left law enforcement eons ago, and I am sure that Justice Sykes busted his tail to get to where he is today, and that is not only admirable, it is commendable.
Before responding to the Chief Justice’s statements, I will first say that the sentences meted out to violent offenders are an integral part of why Violent crime continues to rise year over year.
In fairness, all of us must take stock that the penal code isn’t working as the penalties are far too criminal-friendly.
When Judges hand down light sentences to violent offenders, it complicates the already thorny issue of violent crime in our country. Neither Bryan Sykes nor any other Jamaican should make any assertions that the penalties being handed down to the nation’s most violent offenders are anywhere near where they ought to be.
This issue, however, is not solely within the remit of judges, but lies squarely at the feet of the Legislature to bring the criminal code up to where it needs to be to respond to the wave of violent crimes washing over the country.
I have personally called for a total revamping of the criminal code and coming up with penalties that better reflect the severity of the crimes and the times’ seriousness.
In those calls, I have laid out in practical terms how that may be achieved, including (a) legislating much stiffer penalties for violent crimes, (b) legislating truth in sentencing,(unless there are exigent circumstances, a ten-year sentence should result in ten years served), © mandatory minimum sentences for certain violent crimes,(this removes from criminal friendly judges, the discretion to turn them loose as soon as they are convicted.
So let us ‘consider the Chief Justice’s statements!
Remember, he responded to the idea that cops are mad that judges are issuing light sentences to violent offenders. We will henceforth refer to the Chief Justice as CJ.
(CJ) “I have no problem with criticisms of judges, but we must have all the information before we criticize, and in any event, the solution to this is a simple one, which the ministry is addressing, namely right of appeal by the Crown. So all of these things will be addressed in due course.”
I agree with the Chief Justice, on the need to have all of the facts; however, it cannot be that the CJ is tone-deaf to this issue that has been pervasive for decades.
In any event, the prosecutor’s right to appeal the egregious cases of improper leniency by some judges cannot come soon enough.
Sykes responded in a specific case where the police are incensed at the sentence handed down to a known gangster.
(CJ)“According to the news report, the police are reportedly upset because of the light sentence; the point is that there is no offense known as ‘alleged gangster.’ There is a statute called the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Organisations) Act. If the police believe that they have sufficient evidence to convince a court of the requisite standard that this person is indeed a criminal organization member, then that is the charge that ought to have been laid. Then the person would have been tried or placed before a judge of the Supreme Court, but the judge at the Parish Court can’t take account of unsubstantiated allegations.”
(CJ)“And in any event with Parish Court judges, there is a limit to the sentence that they can give, and the report does not indicate the remarks by the sentencing judge which the Court of Appeal has now obliged all judges at whatever level in the trial courts to indicate why a particular sentence was given. I am sure that the judge did this, but, of course, those things are not usually of interest. What is of interest now is the nine months it is said that he received.”
Hmm, I wonder why the Court of Appeals has now mandated that judges at all levels in the trial courts indicate why a particular sentence is given?
Could it be that the Appellate court recognizes that there are vast unexplained disparities in the sentences being handed down for the same offenses, and with no mitigating circumstances, in different courts by different judges?
Is the CJ aware of these disparities occurring in the Saint James trial courts, for example?
I’ll move on.
Speaking to the claims that the convicted man was believed to be a member of the feared Hollywood Gang, the chief justice said allegations were insufficient.
(CJ)“Again, where is the evidence to support this? Furthermore, legislation indicates that where the person has entered a plea, discounts should be taken into account. Interestingly, the report does not indicate any long list of previous convictions of any kind, so it would appear, even on this report, that this is a gentleman [who] may very well have been, as far as the court is concerned, a first offender, no previous conviction and he is in a court that has a limit placed upon its sentencing. The gentleman has been in custody for some eight months, so all of these are factors that the judge would have to take into account.”
I agree with the CJ’s assumptions; if they are assumptions. On the one hand, however, he seemed to want to create the impression that he knew pretty little about the case in question. Still, his specificity related to the offender’s criminal record and the court’s limitations, particularly the length of time the offender was in jail before trial, seem to tell a different story.
Nevertheless, I will move on.
I wanted to give the chief Justice due deference, and as such, I laid out his comments and gave him credit when he spoke the truth.
But for the Chief Justice to stand before reporters or wherever the hell he stood to make claims about limitations on the court, first-time offenders, and the time dangerous offenders spend in jail before trial, without acknowledging the elephant in the room is disingenuous, to say the least.
To pretend that there is no problem with the sentences handed down by judges within the system, makes Bryan Sykes a hypocrite and, for all intents and purposes, a damn liar.
He has been in the system long enough to know full well that this has been a sore subject for decades.
Is he going to pretend also that the reason the court of appeals mandated that judges give reasons for the sentences they hand down is simply arbitrary and unrelated to this vexing question?
The instances in which Judges bring the justice system into disrepute through disparate sentencing, are far too many for anyone, least of all the Chief Justice, to pretend it isn’t happening.
If Bryan Sykes were a leader, what he would do is schedule a sitdown with police officers and allow for a discussion to occur between himself, his contemporaries, Prosecutors, and defense Attorneys so that the views of all can be aired out and a better understanding of all the roles appreciated.
Denying that judges are letting violent criminals off the hook with slight slaps on the wrist by stating the obvious, is at its heart disingenuous.
Mike Beckles is a former Police Detective, businessman, freelance writer, black achiever honoree, and creator of the blog mikebeckles.com.