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Ballantyne gets a year for gun possession

Ballantyne gets a year for gun possession


16-year-old Nelson Ballantyne got away with what some may consider to be a slap on the wrist when he was sentenced to one year in prison for gun possession by Chief Magistrate Sonya Young on Tuesday.{{more}}

The Sandy Bay resident pleaded guilty to having one shotgun in his possession on February 3, 2008, at Sandy Bay.

When Ballantyne was caught, he told the police that he found the gun when he went fishing. That, however, is not what he told the Chief Magistrate when he appeared before her. He said then that he had the gun to secure himself when he goes to plant marijuana.

Although the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines provide for a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment for gun possession, the Magistrate is allowed to exercise his or her discretion.

Ballantyne’s probation report, read in court on Tuesday, said that he was a good prospect to be redeemed, which Young seemed to wholly agree to. “I looked at the (fact that) the first possible chance you had, you pleaded guilty and also other things you said to me in court,” Young said to Ballantyne.

Young said she found it was a difficult task sending the chap to prison, even though the offence was a serious one, especially with the proliferation of guns in the country.

Young found that there were sufficient mitigation factors presented by Ballantyne’s attorney Julian Jack to influence her to reduce his sentence.

Jack, in his powerful mitigation plea, said that Ballantyne was the product of a harsh family background and that he grew up around an abusive father and had to be moved from home to home. Jack commended the police for their drive in the fight against crime and illegal firearms. He noted that his client never hurt anyone and there was never any intention to do so. Amidst the circumstances, Jack asked Magistrate Young to reprimand and discharge him of the charge.

Responding to Jack’s submissions, Young said that she was sending Ballantyne to prison so that he could reflect on his life and what he did. “I wouldn’t normally speak to a defendant like this, but I believe you’re a good boy,” said Young.

In her first gun sentencing matter since taking up the post as Chief Magistrate on Monday December 31, 2007, Young imposed a three-month prison sentence on 17-year-old Kyron John. He, like Ballantyne, pleaded guilty to the charge. On that occasion, Young also recognized the mounting gun problem in the country and warned the youth to stay out of trouble.

Another teen, 18 year-old Ottley Hall labourer Enrico Johnny, was sent to prison for two years after he pleaded guilty to possession of one .22 revolver. Ackeedo English, a 17-year-old was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by Chief Magistrate Young after pleading guilty to having one .38 revolver in his possession.

The Dr Ralph Gonsalves administration increased the penalty from one to seven years for illegal gun possession. Prior to the new legislation coming into effect, an amnesty and immunity from prosecution was offered to persons surrendering unlicensed firearms.

At a press conference in May last year, Dr Gonsalves said it was unacceptable for one Magistrate to sentence someone to three years for illegal possession of a firearm, while another person was fined $3000.(KW)