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Magistrate gives jail time to Belize City man for firearm offense, attorney Orson Elrington said it could have been a fine

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Posted: Sunday, January 2, 2022. 8:53 pm CST.

By BBN Staff: Last week a family of five, three minors, and two adults were taken before the Belize City Magistrate’s Court charged with possession of an unlicensed firearm. While one person pleaded guilty to the offense, sparing the others from further court action, attorney Orson Elrington’s request for the defendant to receive a fine instead of prison time was ultimately denied.

Twenty-year-old Jahfari Gonguez appeared before Senior Magistrate, Aretha Ford, on Thursday, owning up to a .38 revolver with six live rounds of ammunition found at his home during a search conducted by the Belize Police Department’s anti-gang unit, the GI3.

He pleaded guilty, which, after some back and forth in court, allowed 24-year-old Bethany Gonquez, twenty-year-old Alleisha Stevens, along with two minors ages 15 and 16 years to go free.

“I accept fact that I made a mistake your honor and I am sorry,” Gonguez said.

But after Elrington submitted to the court that his client’s clean police record made him a fitting case to be fined instead of being sent to prison, the Senior Magistrate ultimately sentenced Gonguez to two years in prison. He was given two years for the gun and six months for the bullets, but the sentences will run concurrently, leaving him to only serve two years.

“It was the learned magistrate’s position that she does not have the discretion to grant a non-custodial sentence, and effectively grant a fine instead of confinement. It was our position and it is still our position that the learned magistrate has unfettered discretion in dealing with these matters…” Elrington said.

He stressed that other magistrates have exercised such discretion before, and that case law supports his submission that a Magistrate is in fact, empowered by the Laws of Belize to exercise discretion in such an instance, drawing from the 2014 case of Police Corporal Gino Peck, who was fined a total of $650 for unlicensed firearms and ammunition.

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