Sunday, September 25, 2005

Stella says…Your Sentence Did Not Match the Crime, Freddie

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 25 Sept 2005)

Freddie, thank you so much for the “warm” welcome you extended to me this week. You really are such a sweet person and I am so excited to be a Kaieteur News columnists. I would not dream of turning down an opportunity to have a regular avenue by which to maintain our tender exchange of banter and wit.

In fact, I almost dropped by the university to pay you a surprise visit when in Guyana last month. But my time was spent on family visits, shopping and eating – and oh boy do Guyanese know how to eat! A friend who was married just two weeks earlier treated us to seven curry! I’ll try to squeeze you into my busy schedule next time in town, okay?

Meanwhile, I feel compelled to share the definition of a very important word with you. Although this is a word I am sure you have come across several times in your field of study, it seems that its real meaning must have escaped your need for implementation. The word is diplomacy.

Dear sweet and sensitive Freddie, your column entitled “Magistrate declined to talk,” which was published this past Thursday, did in fact highlight some very important points. However, in the end, you became guilty of the very same thing that you were trying to expose - inequity in justice. I’m not one to tell others how to do their job (yeah, right!), but since we are such close friends I feel obligated to show you how to dispense justice with diplomacy.

Firstly, let me point out that I agree with your analysis of Guyana’s judicial system in that it needs a serious overhaul. For example, early this past week a man who severely brutalised his wife received a measly three months in jail for his atrocious crime. Meanwhile a teenage mother who was found to have illegal drugs in her sink was sentenced to three years in jail.

I find these sentences to be extremely disproportionate. According to the Kaieteur News article, the aforementioned man had given his wife “lacerations to her forehead, right arm, back and bruising to her left eye.” In other words, he beat the holy hell out of his wife. For restitution, he got a mere slap on the wrist of a three-month sentence, which means he could be back to torture her again by Christmas.

Meanwhile, a teen girl who had evidently been exposed to some serious criminal behaviour early in life was not afforded the same type of leniency. As she sobbed for mercy from the judge, she was sentenced to be locked up for three years from her child. When I first read about these cases, I had to ask myself this question, “From whom does society need more protection – the violent wife beater or the druggie teenage mom”?

I’m not even sure I am equipped to answer that question. However, upon further reflection I came to believe that the mother who was sobbing for mercy was probably more apt to be rehabilitated and so, as a judge, I would have given her the three-month sentence and the wife beater the three-year sentence.

However, as I have already pointed out, I am not qualified to make these types of decisions since I have not studied Guyana law and have never prosecuted or defended anyone accused of a crime. In fact, I am assuming that since drugs are such a problem in Guyana, there might even be a mandatory sentence for drug offenders. As there should be for violent crimes against women. And as there should be for illegal possession of arms, which brings us back to your story, Freddie.

Just because I have not studied enough in this particular area to be able to render sentences judiciously, that doesn’t mean that I cannot see injustice when it is staring me in the face. This is what happened to both of us this week in the separate cases we analysed. However, Freddie, I must say that the judgment you rendered for Magistrate Reynolds was just as unbalanced as her rulings contrasted in your column.

You would not find one person in the country who would argue against the fact that Guyana’s judicial system should be subject to serious scrutiny and repair. However, telling a nation rife with crime that it has at least one judge who is incompetent is not the way to reform the system. The people of Guyana are just as quick as you and I. They add the components of this equation together and see the stark injustice being dispensed daily too. They are certainly not blind to judicial indiscretions.

My issue is this Freddie, if we remove all the magistrates from the bench – who will be left to sentence the real criminals? I completely support any protest against injustice, but I believe there to be a better way to get the job done. There is an old saying, “A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” This is so true, Freddie. However, your column served up about five gallons of vinegar.

You even went as far as to describe the magistrate’s clothing, dress style and body type! Dear Freddie, didn’t your mother teach you any better? You should never remark on a woman’s appearance unless it is in the form of a compliment. Even the mere notation of a body type could be offensive to her and to any other woman with that body type and even women who wish they had that body type but are instead on the pudgier side, which means you could have alienated a large portion of your audience and rendered your argument as pointless from the start.

However, the most faulty part of that particular column was that you employed the same type of injustice that you were attempting to interpret as being a travesty. You sentenced Magistrate Reynolds to a strict verdict by saying you feel she is too incompetent to be on the bench. This is a harsh judgement. Would a review by her superiors be in order? Of course, but not removal from her position.

I think it would behove of us all to dispense justice tempered with a little more mercy. I am preaching to myself now too since I feel my tirade on Robert Persaud this week was far too stern. Those were the emotions I felt at the time, but it would have been advantageous to take a more merciful route instead of stooping to the same level that I was in fact criticising. I know that I am more than capable of making my point without making enemies. This is diplomacy in action.

In short, Freddie, remember that groovy people practice what they preach. You cannot expect others to correct their errant ways while you display the same type of behaviour in exposing the initial offence. Don’t worry though dear friend, I’ve got your back and I’m here to help you through these tough life issues. And when I do come to visit you, I’ll be sure to bring you plenty of honey!

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