Tougher demands but no tougher sentences for gun possession

POSTED: 01/20/15 8:02 PM

St. Maarten – The first firearm possession court cases after last year’s Stop Drop and Go action have not brought the prosecutor’s office the results it is after. When the action to surrender illegal firearms voluntarily ended in November of last year, it was clear that prosecutors would ask higher sentences for future illegal gun possession. Instead of the 12 months imprisonment that has been the standard for quite some years, the demand in court is not up to 15 months.

The first two cases the Court in First Instance dealt with under this new guideline backfired. In one case, the defendant received a 15-month sentence with 6 months suspended and in the second case, the defendant got off with 5 months of which 10 months are suspended. The net result is that the actual punishments for firearm possession have gone down, instead of up.

William John Mullin, a 28-year-old American who owns Caribbean Charters together with his parents was caught with a handgun in Maho on December 19 of last year. He was in hospital for the treatment of stab wounds after a fight at the 3 Amigos watering hole in Maho. Hospital staff told the police that a man had told them that Mullin had a gun in his car.

Initially the American gave no permission to police to search his car – which was the wise thing to do – but later he did give permission and then officers found the loaded gun in the trunk with a cartridge holding six rounds of ammunition.

Mullin told investigators that he had bought the weapon from a junkie for $80 and that he had wanted it for the protection of his family.

“This was poor judgment on my part,” the emotional defendant told the court.

Prosecutor Karola van Nie considered the charge proven. “It is not the wild west here,” she said, adding that after the conclusion of the Stop Drop and Go action the demands for illegal gun possession would be higher. “You found it apparently necessary to have this weapon, to show it to others, to have it with you in an entertainment area and you intended to use it.”

For all this, Van Nie demanded the new standard punishment of 15 months of imprisonment.

Attorney Shaira Bommel told the court that her client knows he took a stupid decision by purchasing the gun. “He has been robbed a couple of times and his mother’s home was burgled. The weapon gave him a safer feeling. He knows now that he should have reported the robberies.”

Bommel said that the prosecutor’s demand, given these circumstances, was too high.

“That gun was not safely stored and it was known that you had it,” Judge Paulides admonished the defendant. “A tough approach is justified because the consequences of illegal gun possession are unacceptable for the community.” Paulides considered that Mullin is a first time offender and that his attitude in court shows that he acknowledges that what he did was wrong.

Mullin therefore got off with 15 months, of which 6 months are suspended and 2 years of probation.

The next gun-possession suspect was 55-year-old Destry Charles Raymond. Police caught him on the Sugarmill Road in front of his house with a loaded Smith&Wesson handgun in the waistband of his trousers, after a neighborhood resident had reported him.

The defendant told the court that he felt threatened by a Haitian man and that he had bought it from a Chinese man in Marigot.

Judge Paulides was exasperated. “If everyone who feels threatened starts buying guns, then where are we going?” she wondered.

Raymond – an electrical engineer with a 30-year career at Gebe and a part-time cab driver – said that he had applied for a gun permit in the time when Roland Duncan was still Minister of Justice, but that he had not obtained one.

Prosecutor Van Nie demanded again 15 months of imprisonment.

“This case shows that even a very nice and agreeable man like my client could get in trouble with justice,” attorney Geert Hatzmann said. “This man is not going to put on a mask and rob banks. He felt threatened, made a wrong choice and now he regrets it.”

Hatzmann criticized the Stop Drop and Go action by drawing a rather unfortunate comparison with Safe Haven’s billboards against domestic violence. “This is not a miracle cure,” he said. “I think that half of all the men in St. Maarten beat their wives and those billboards have been there for years.”

The attorney said that the high demand does not make sense. “If my client has to go to jail now, his wife and children will end up on the street and he will lose his job. He learned his lesson and we should not exaggerate with retaliation. Give him a fine or community service.”

Judge Paulides maintained that tough action against illegal gun possession is justified and that a 15-month sentence is in itself not unreasonable. “On the other hand, we have here a defendant with a spotless career whose health is not optimal, though he is not unfit for detention. A completely suspended sentence is not sufficient.”

Raymond therefore received a sentence of 15 months, of which 10 months are suspended. The court imposed 2 years of probation. Hatzmann said after the hearing that his client would appeal the ruling.

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