Editorial: Tough on crime

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We have been supporting the government’s actions to get tough on crime and we have also been promoting strong penalties for certain types of crimes, especially violent crimes. It was therefore unfortunate to learn that one aspect of the government’s tough stance on crime was recently undermined by the court (at least in one instance).  We are sure that this is just some type of mix-up and may be rooted in some inefficient communication, but with  the public’s growing concern over crime, now is not the time to frustrate ourselves with mistakes of this type.  Now is the time that we speak with one clear voice:  You do the crime, you do the time!
The issue at hand surrounds that recent passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Act No 27 of 2017 and a bit of contradictory sentencing by Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh in the St. John’s Magistrates Court in the case of Makieva Otto.  Otto was found guilty of gun and ammunition possession, and in that case, a fine was imposed on the convicted man rather than the mandatory jail time that has been established via the new law.
Upon being informed of the $5,500 fine, the Attorney General (AG), Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, confirmed that it is not in keeping with the law.  He further stated that, “As far as I am aware, in the Antigua and Barbuda official gazette, volume 37 No. 85 published on Thursday 6th of November 2017, the Firearms (Amendment) Act No 27 of 2017 was published, and upon publication all persons concerned with the applications of the provisions of the Act are deemed to know the contents of the Act.”  That is obviously not the case.
To our minds, the issue at hand is not only this particular case; it is wider than that.  Our concern is, how do we ensure that it does not happen again (for this law or any other)?  We cannot have the government taking legislative action to curb crime and the courts negating those actions with contradictory sentencing.  This type of disappointment runs throughout our society.  First, the politicians become frustrated that their efforts appear wasteful and then the people become even more frustrated because their expectations are not met.  Again, we are hoping that this is a one-off incident.
While we can understand that sometimes communication techniques fail to deliver the message in an efficient and timely manner, there must be additional controls that monitor the sentencing to ensure that it aligns with the laws.  A review process should be in place to ensure that laws and the associated sentencing guidelines are being adhered to.  Only then can the steps taken by the politicians, on behalf of the people, be truly enforced.  While we are always ready to assist, those checks and balances should not fall to the media or the people.  
The AG said that he was aware that another magistrate in another district had already  applied the provision of the Act, so there must be some type of feedback going on. However, our research indicates that there is no formal review process.  Maybe the AG’s knowledge of the other case was simply a matter of personal interest but in any event, there is an obvious need for some type of review process, especially when new laws such as these are passed.
And while we are discussing crime and taking a united approach, it is worth mentioning again that crime is not a political matter so we should all work towards the common goal of reducing that scourge in our society.  Do not think that because one administration enacts laws to tackle crime that it is automatically wrong.  Get on board with sending the united message that crime will not be tolerated in our society and tough penalties will be meted out to anyone who decides to engage in criminal acts.  
When it comes to crime, we are extremely empathetic to victims, and we believe that those who engage in crimes against our brothers and sisters, especially violent crimes, should feel the full brunt of the law. That is how their victims and our society get justice. So let’s just all get on the same page and find ways to make sure we stay there.

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