Life sentence substituted with 30 years
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 30, 2018– The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) handed down a ruling on an appeal brought by convicted murderer Gregory August, who was convicted in November 2012, for the 2009 stabbing murder of Alvin Rowland, 73, who was stabbed nine times at his Sunset Park home.
August had appealed his murder conviction and the constitutionality of the consequent life sentence. The appeal was spearheaded by the London-based group The Death Penalty Project, and was argued at the CCJ by attorney Eamon Courtenay, S.C.
In its ruling, the CCJ dismissed August’s appeal and affirmed his Supreme Court conviction for Rowland’s murder.
August, however, had also challenged the constitutionality of the mandatory life sentence that he has been serving and the CCJ upheld the Belize Court of Appeal decision that the mandatory life in prison sentence for murder was unconstitutional.
The Belize Court of Appeal had ruled in November 2016 that the life-in-prison for murder sentence was a violation of Section 7 of the Belize Constitution, which provides that “no person shall be subject to torture or to inhumane punishment or treatment.”
The CCJ ruled, however, to substitute the life in prison sentence that August was serving with a fixed sentence of 30 years in prison. Under the life-in-prison sentence, August would not have been eligible for parole, but with the fixed sentence, he becomes eligible for parole after he has served at least half of his sentence.
The CCJ rule to uphold the Belize Court of Appeal finding that the automatic life in prison sentence for murder is inhumane, will now usher in a new regime of sentencing for persons convicted of murder in future cases.
Following the CCJ hearing, which was done via teleconference between the court’s Port of Spain, Trinidad headquarters and the Belize Supreme Court, Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, S.C. told reporters, “We are extremely pleased that the court concluded that August’s conviction was safe. This is the position, of course, that we had maintained both at the Court of Appeal and at the CCJ. The case against August was always circumstantial.”
DPP Vidal said that there was enough material circumstantially to convict August.
DPP Vidal added, “At the Supreme Court, the judge who tried the matter agreed with us and our Court of Appeal also agreed with us in the first hearing and confirmed the same in the second hearing and now we have it at the CCJ level, that legally, the evidence was sufficient.”
At his trial, August did not take the witness stand. If he had, he would have been subjected to questions from the prosecutor and the trial judge; instead he gave a dock statement, which could not be challenged through questioning. At his CCJ appeal, the question of good character came up and was part of the appeal’s deliberation.
DPP Vidal explained that aspect of the appeal as follows: “One of the issues that was argued in relation to an accused person who remains into the safety of the dock and makes a statement rather than accused who goes into the box and gives evidence be entitled to a direction on his credibility, and we have always felt and we argued strenuously that if an accused person does not go into the stand and opens himself up to cross-examination as all witnesses do, that he should not be entitled to direction, speaking about the fact that he has a good character and so he must be telling the truth, and the court has confirmed that view and that is a major shift in the law in our jurisdiction.”
“The Court of Appeal had before touched on the issue in certain judgments but it was never definitively decided when the matter was remitted to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal came down on the side of a direction not necessary and now the CCJ has confirmed that and that is now the law and we are exceedingly pleased with this development,” DPP Vidal explained.
DPP Vidal said that the court has urged the formulation of rules for the parole board, which she said they would be agitating government to look into.
Reporters also asked DPP Vidal about the fixed sentence of 30 years for murder which August was sentenced to serve and which is now the law.
“I have not had the opportunity to read the entire judgment and to see the reasoning of the court. So, yes, it is something that immediately concerns me having been involved in a drafting process, but it’s something that we would have to take a closer look at, but we do have a decision of our highest court saying that now it is possible for a person who is convicted of murder to get a fixed term sentence,” DPP Vidal said.
Alwin Gabb, another convicted murderer who was also challenging the life-in-prison sentence that he has been serving, has been ordered by the CCJ to go back to the Supreme Court so that his life-in-prison sentence could be set aside so that a fixed sentence can be imposed on him.