Disparate sentences for escapees, harbourer were in keeping with laws, lawyers say

Despite the disparity seen in recent sentences handed down for some prisoners who escaped from the Lusignan Prison and a man who harboured an escapee, some legal minds say that the courts acted according to the law.

On July 26, Jamal Forde, Jamal Joseph and Winston Long, who fled from a Lusignan Prison holding facility, were jailed for one-year each for escaping from lawful custody.

The very next day, Esan Gibson, 18, was sentenced by Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan to three years in jail after admitting to harbouring fugitive Melvor Jeffrey, who had escaped custody while being held under guard at the Georgetown Public Hospital.

Prison escapees are covered by Section 340 and 341 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act. Section 340 states that in grave cases, anyone who escapes from any lawful custody, whether convicted or not, is guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for three years. In non-grave cases, Section 341 says the offender is deemed guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for two years.

Meanwhile, Section 344 of the Act addresses the harbouring of fugitives. It says, “Everyone who—(a) rescues any person or assists any person in escaping or attempting to escape from lawful custody, whether in person or not, otherwise than upon a charge, conviction or sentence of or for an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for more than two years; or (b)  with  intent  to  facilitate  the  escape  of  any  prisoner lawfully imprisoned,  conveys  or  causes  to  be  conveyed anything whatsoever into any prison, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for three years.”

While some observers have questioned why Gibson received a stiffer penalty, an attorney, who asked not to be named, explained that a magistrate would assess the situation before handing down a sentence. It was pointed out that the world “liable” gives the magistrate the flexibility to sentence a person to less than the prescribed jail term, depending on the circumstances. It was explained that if an accused pleads guilty and offers a logical explanation and shows remorse, the magistrate would be lenient but a heavier penalty would be attached if they decline to speak.

In the case of the three escapees, they told the court that their actions were due to the poor conditions under which they were being kept.

The men said they escaped from a pasture and not a prison.

In the case of Grant, he declined to say anything to the court when asked by the magistrate. The prosecutor, however, told the court that Gibson admitted to police that he knew that Jeffrey was wanted. He was reported to have told the ranks that he saw Jeffrey in the village’s backdam and he assisted him by taking him to the house.

On July 11, Jeffrey was engaged in a shootout with the police at Agricola, where he was wounded before allegedly being arrested with a shotgun and eight cartridges.

Another lawyer further pointed out that magistrates ought to send a strong message to those who harbour or intend to harbour escapees and therefore agreed with the maximum sentence handed down in Gibson’s case.

“Why must we allow people to get off lightly for providing support and shelter to wanted men, some of whom are dangerous? This practice must stop and a good way to do so is to hand down severe sentences, the highest possible, to stop people from engaging in this practice,” the attorney said.

The masterminds of the July 9th Camp Street prison break face a much stiffer penalty if they are caught and it is proven that they breached the jail.

Section 339 of the Act says that “Everyone who, by force or violence, breaks any prison, with intent to set at liberty himself or any other person confined therein on any criminal charge, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for seven years.

Two of the Camp Street escapees Royden Williams and Uree Varswyck have been pinpointed as engaged in such activities during the jail-break.

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