Problem of crime and punishment
Last week a woman was charged and pleaded guilty to robbing her victim of a handbag which contained several items including cash and a cellular phone. The woman admitted her guilt, returned the stolen items and asked the police to give her apologies to the victim. She was sentenced to seven months in jail.
“The magistrate said that she took into consideration that (Michelle) Cudjoe had pleaded guilty and this was her first offence before the court but said that the offence was a serious one and the victim would have felt violated and afraid.” (Express, October 22).
Upon reading this story in the Express, I could not help but wonder what constitutes “justice” or “punishment that befits the crime” in this country. Earlier this year, we witnessed the sentencing in another Magistrate’s court where a popular entertainer, found guilty of five criminal offences, was “punished” with a fine and compensation totalling $27,000. The offences were four charges of assault and one charge of using obscene language. The entertainer had pleaded not guilty, had taken the victims through the indignity of a trial that lasted five years and had not apologised to the victims until after being found guilty.
“In passing sentence, Magistrate Gafoor-Baboolal said she had taken into account (Machel) Montano’s good character, and that he had made a valuable contribution to the country. However, the magistrate said that despite this, the two offences of assault occasioning actual bodily harm were very serious and the court had to send a message that such behaviour would not be tolerated.” (Express, February 25).
In reading the reasoning of both magistrates, I am disturbed by the disparity between them. One victim versus four; thievery versus assault (in two cases resulting in actual bodily harm); custodial sentence versus a fine and compensation. Did not the victims of assault feel “violated and afraid’’? How can both be considered serious crimes and yet one goes to jail while the other walks free?
These two cases highlight the vast difference between sentencing by different magistrates. More and more it seems that it depends on who is before them, or how they happen to feel that day is the basis on which they rule.
Is there really a law for the rich and another for the poor? In sweet T&T is justice balanced? Does the punishment truly fit the crime?