A relative newcomer to the territory — Jhoncarlos Castillo of the Dominican Republic — was sentenced to six months imprisonment and fined $5,000 after he was caught with a rusting, unlicenced 9mm Taurus handgun in September.
The 21-year-old gardener pleaded guilty to keeping a firearm without a license when he appeared before Magistrate Shawn Innocent on Thursday.
He has up to three months to pay the fine, or in default, will spend six months at Her Majesty’s Prison in Balsam Ghut. That default sentence would run concurrently (at the same time) to his other sentence. This means he will only spend a total of six months in prison if he pays the fine or not.
The court, in the meantime, ordered that the custodial sentence take effect from the date he was first remanded — September 14.
In handing down the sentence, Magistrate Innocent said he took into consideration the seriousness of the offence and the fact that the offender used the weapon to instil fear in his landlord and roommate. Those, he said, were aggravating factors in the matter.
On the other hand, the court said the mitigating factors were that the gun was not found on Castillo in a public place, nor did it have a magazine with ammunition. The court reasoned that the absence of a magazine or bullets made the weapon virtually non-functional. This, the magistrate said, placed Castillo’s offence on the ‘lower end’ of the firearm offences scale.
Mitigating factors outweigh aggravating ones, says court
The magistrate, therefore, concluded that the mitigating factors of the case outweighed the aggravating factors.
“[This sentence] is to teach you to obey the law … Not only have you brought shame on your father, but on yourself by your infantile attitude.”
The young Hispanic offender has been in the territory on a work permit for eight months while his father has been working in the territory for the past few years.
According to the Virgin Islands Firearms and Air Guns (Amendment) Act of 2015, a person convicted of keeping/carrying a firearm is liable “to a fine of not less than fifty thousand dollars or imprisonment for a term of not less than five years or both”.
The law also provides for the court to exercise “discretion” and impose a lesser penalty if “it is fair and just in all the circumstances”, if it is of the opinion that the imposition of the minimum five-year penalty is “arbitrary and disproportionate”, or if the offender is “unfit to serve the minimum sentence or is of advanced years”.
What the court heard happened
The court heard that on September 13, police conducted a search of Castillo’s Long Look residence after receiving a report from the landlord that the young man was in possession of a firearm.
The search uncovered the gun with an obliterated serial number on the top shelf of Castillo’s bedroom closet.
When questioned, he told police that he found the illegal firearm in a boat in Parham Town and kept it for his protection.
He then led police to the boat where he found the firearm. He admitted to the police that he took photos with the gun and also showed it to his landlord and female roommate.
Castillo was subsequently arrested and charged.
Attorney-at-law Nelson Samuel represented Castillo.
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