The Guyana Court of Appeal on Monday shortened a life sentence imposed on a 23-year-old man, who was convicted of manslaughter by a jury. Noting that trial Judge Navindra Singh erred when he imposed an indeterminate sentence on Deosarran Bisnauth, who was just 16 when he committed the offence, the Appeal Court agreed that a sentence of 12 years was appropriate in the circumstances.
Initially indicted for murder, Bisnauth was found guilty on the lesser count of manslaughter for the unlawful killing of 37-year-old Robert Mangal called “Trevor”. The killing occurred on July 6, 2013, at a liquor restaurant at Enmore, East Coast Demerara. Facts of the case are that on July 6, 2013, Bisnauth went to the liquor shop inquiring about a man who had owed him money.
A quarrel ensued between him and the man. Mangal, who was present at the shop, armed himself with a bottle and confronted Bisnauth. In retaliation, Bisnauth picked up a piece of wood and dealt the now dead man several lashes to the head, causing him to collapse to the ground. The injured man was rushed to the Georgetown Public Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Government Pathologist, Dr Nehaul Singh had given his cause of death as cerebral haemorrhage due to blunt perineal trauma to the head. Another doctor had testified that the injuries Mangal sustained were life-threatening.
“Picking up fire rage”
For his part, Bisnauth had testified that he acted in self-defence after Mangal charged at him with a “rum bottle.” In a caution statement, he had told the Police that he went to the shop and he and one “Richmond” had a fight because he asked him for his money.
He had told detectives that “Trevor” walked up to him with a bottle and he picked up a piece of wood and dealt a lash at him and he fell. The convict said that he went away.
In the appeal against conviction and sentence, Bisnauth’s lawyer, Stanley Moore, SC, proffered several grounds in his bid to have them overturned. Delivering the court’s ruling was Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards. Among other things, Moore contended that parts of the trial judge’s direction to the jury amounted to a “misdirection” which resulted in his client having an unfair trial.
The court, however, noted that this ground had no merit. In doing so, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards held that the trial Judge provided the jury with ample directions on the law, facts, and their role. Further, the court held that the evidence was sufficient for the jurors to arrive at the verdict – which they did.
According to Justice Cummings-Edwards, one complaint that had merit is the issue of provocation, especially given the contents of Bisnauth’s caution statement. The Appeal Court said that while the trial Judge did not go to lengths to explain the defence of manslaughter to the jurors, they did conclude that Bisnauth acted under distress from provocation.
Turning its attention to the ground of appeal on sentence, the appellate court settled that “it had merit”.
In examining the facts of the case, the Chancellor said it would appear that the now dead man was “picking up fire rage” or going to Bisnauth to “instil discipline.” But given that he approached the teenager with a bottle, she noted that the latter seems not to be the case.
The Judge reminded that Bisnauth said that he was afraid of Mangal given his age.
“This is not a case of a conviction for murder. We are dealing with a young person [Bisnauth], a juvenile, and consideration must be given to that because that is considered as a mitigating factor; the offender’s youth,” the Chancellor of the Judiciary pointed out.
“We are of the view that the sentence should not have been life imprisonment given the circumstances. It was not a case of the worse of the worst; this is not a worst-case scenario and should have allowed for a determinate period of imprisonment with an opportunity for review. Such a sentence is not justifiable…,” the Court of Appeal held.
In passing sentence, the court pointed out that the trial Judge should have considered the following mitigating factors in favour of Bisnauth. They include the fact that he was a first-time offender, his age, he cooperated with Police investigation, there was no degree of premeditation. “It would seem that it was spontaneous,” the court said.
Further, the court added that consideration ought to have been given to the weapon used to inflict the injuries, and the fact that the crime was not gang-related. According to the court, the principles of sentencing, especially retribution, deterrence, and particularly the opportunity for rehabilitation for integration into society should be considered when passing a sentence.
Moreover, the Court of Appeal underscored that a different policy must be taken to the life sentence and whether it is applied to children and young persons as opposed to adults.
Quoting from a dissertation made in a ruling by the Privy Council, the Chancellor said: “Protection and welfare lay at the heart of the statutory provisions that remain under the Children Act.”
“The convention on the Rights of a Child advises us that we must bear in mind that a child by the reason of his physical and mental immaturity needs safeguard and appropriate legal protection.”
Having regards to the circumstances, the Court of Appeal set aside the life sentence and imposed a sentence of 12 years on Bisnauth.
The court ordered that the prison authorities are to deduct the time he spent in pre-trial custody.
It was also ordered that if any time remains after the deduction is made, it is subject to revision by the Chief Justice or trial Judge. The other Judges deliberating on this matter were Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory-Barnes and Rishi Persaud. (G1)