By Refusing To Acknowledge Disparate Sentencing Chief Justice Loses Credibility…

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.”
Agreed wholeheartedly!

(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 mike​beck​les​.com.