IN the wake of seven people being killed in the last 72 hours Justice Minister Delroy Chuck is again making a case for harsher minimum sentences to be imposed for people who commit capital murder.
Drawing on the Tuesday morning quadruple murder in Crawle, Riversdale, St Catherine, in which three women and a man were killed in a house and the triple murder in Grant's Pen, St Andrew, on Sunday, in which three men were shot at a construction site, Chuck said it is because of incidents like these that several Bills dealing with minimum sentencing for murder are being reviewed to "send the right signal" to criminals.
Among the proposed changes set out in the three pieces of related legislation is a mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years for capital murder.
Describing the murderous acts as "real outrageous behaviour", Chuck questioned how people "can deliberately take it on themselves to go and shoot up [people]".
"Just two nights ago four persons were killed, and that is a deliberate act. It's the same that happened in Grant's Pen on Sunday — whether it is revenge or retaliation or just heartless behaviour," the justice minister said.
Chuck, who was chairing the meeting of the joint select committee reviewing the various mandatory minimum legislation on Wednesday, said he was pleased that the perpetrators were apprehended within a couple hours and expressed the hope that others involved in the Crawle incident will also be quickly nabbed.
If these criminals, he said, could be quickly apprehended and convicted with the appropriate sentencing, then people would feel that justice was done.
"It takes too long for justice to be complied with, and that is a problem in our country. But once they are found, and especially if the evidence is strong to get them convicted, I think the country is calling out and we can't ignore what the country is calling for — severe penalties — and that is why these Bills are before us," he said.
The proposed changes being considered by members of the joint select committee include amendments to the Offences Against the Person Act (OAPA), the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act, and the Child Care and Protection (Amendment) Act, 2023.
Amendments to Section 3(1)(b) of the OAPA would increase the mandatory minimum sentence from 15 to 45 years. Where a capital murder has been committed, the mandatory minimum sentence to be served before being eligible for parole moves from 20 to 50 years under Section 3 (1C)(a), and under Section 42(F) of the Criminal Justice (Administration) Act, the term of years to be deemed as life imprisonment increases from 30 to 50 years when the offence committed is murder.
Under the Child Care and Protection (Amendment) Act 2023, it is being proposed that children convicted of murder serve a mandatory sentence of 20 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
Chuck said that, while the committee has heard the submissions of the various contributors, including Jamaicans For Justice, which suggested rehabilitation and consideration of the overcrowding of the prisons, his view is that once they are found, evidence is compelling, and they are convicted, the State should impose the strongest penalty.
He stressed that people have been asking for the death penalty for capital murder, which is still on the statute books, and while he hopes the country does not resort to that punishment, the alternative must be severe.
Said Chuck: "Another possibility is life imprisonment with a very high minimum mandatory. What is being proposed in the Bill is 50 years and, to be frank, once it's capital we have to send that signal very clear that that person has been a menace to society, and, therefore, should be locked away for a very, very long time, even to the extent of life."
"How low we go, we must consider; we have started out at 30 years. To be fair, persons have suggested 25 [years], should we go there? The point we are making [is that] for capital murder we must be as severe as we can. For non-capital murder, I feel we could be less severe and allow the court a wide discretion," he said.