The officer was busted with .38, .45 and 12-gauge ammunition; sentencing Friday
Police Corporal #259 Gino Peck, 42, a 22-year veteran of the Belize Police Department who was found with illegal ammunition, has been remanded to prison until Friday, when he is to return to court with his attorney, who will make a mitigation plea before Chief Magistrate Ann Marie Smith sentences him.
On Monday, Peck was found guilty on two counts of keeping ammunition without a gun license, and one count of keeping prohibited ammunition, but his attorney, Simeon Sampson, S.C., asked the court for time to prepare a mitigation plea.
Amendments to the Firearms Act have introduced stiffer penalties, with a minimum prison sentence of five years each for the .38 ammunition and the 12-gauge cartridges, and an additional three years for the prohibited .45 round.
On January 21, 2012, the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) conducted a raid at Peck’s Curassow Street home and discovered that the corporal had twenty-two 12-gauge cartridges, five .38 rounds and one prohibited .45 round.
Both Peck and his wife were charged, but his wife was never arraigned in court, because the charges against her were dropped.
Peck’s case began in the Magistrate’s Court of Chief Magistrate Ann Marie Smith last September and ended today, Monday, January 27. In handing down the guilty verdict, Chief Magistrate Smith reminded Peck that he had admitted to finding the .45 round during a police raid, in which he participated, at a gang location in Belize City.
If that was indeed the case, how did Peck end up with the prohibited round inside his home? Sergeant Randy Sanchez, who was the only defense witness, testified that it was normal for police officers to take home confiscated weapons and ammunition after operations. When asked if he thought that taking home rifles such as AK47’s and M16’s was proper procedure, Sanchez told the court that he did consider it appropriate, as it reduced the amount of preparation time for officers who are suddenly called to conduct operations.
In presenting his defense of Peck, Sampson did not deny that ammunitions were found inside Peck’s house. But he relied heavily on Chapter 143, Section 33 of the Firearms Act, which says: “This act shall not apply to any person in the naval, military, air or voluntary forces of Her Majesty or in the Police Department or Revenue Services of Belize, keeping or carrying or using any firearms or ammunitions in the performance of his duties, or when engaged in target practice or going or returning from any place for such purposes.”
But Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Cheryl-Lyn Vidal, who argued the prosecution’s case, submitted that Chapter 143, section 33, does not apply to Cpl. Peck, since in the transcript he gave to police on the day of the bust, he admitted that he had the .45 round from back in 1997, and her two witnesses, ASP Andres Makin and Sgt. Jorge Villanueva, confirmed that the ammunition found at Peck’s home was not even a part of their inventory, and that from their knowledge, Cpl. Peck had not been issued the ammunition.
The arresting and charging of Corporal Peck by the GSU has created a rift in the Police Department, as some senior officers were of the view that he should not have been charged.