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Gun Laws – Truly Exceptional Circumstances Must Exist to Avoid Minimum Sentencing

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As Kelly said in a previous post, there are certain cases that attract our attention for both their quirkiness and deeper societal meanings.  With several hundred years of cases, there are many, many quirky ones across my jurisdictions.  There has been one particular case that has stuck with me for the past few years as it demonstrated a considerable degree of misfortune for one individual, and highlighted the use of mandatory and minimum sentencing and Britain’s stringent gun laws.

The individual in this particular case had started out the evening at his local public house (pub) with a long term friend drinking a few (ultimately 15) pints of beer.   As the evening progressed there apparently was some confusion as to whose turn it was to purchase the next round of drinks.  The individual was quite disgruntled and left the pub to go home, where he retrieved a sawed-off shotgun.  By the time he returned, the pub had closed and his friend had left.  Whilst in the area of the pub the shotgun was (apparently accidentally) discharged.  Unfortunately, the individual had decided that the best place to store the shotgun on his walk back to the pub was down the front of his trousers.  He sustained considerable injuries to his testicles, which required emergency surgery and left him with long lasting medical implications.  The police were called when the individual received medical attention at the hospital.  He was arrested and charged with unlawfully possessing a firearm.

Further adding to the misfortune of this individual, earlier in the year (January 2004) a new law was brought into force amending the sentencing laws pertaining to certain firearms offenses.  The legislation provides for a five year mandatory minimum prison sentence for anyone found unlawfully possessing a firearm, unless there are exceptional circumstances that would justify deviating from this sentence.  The judge in this case did find that the individual shooting himself in the testicles was an exceptional circumstance, but that it did not justify reducing the sentence below the statutory minimum (to have done so may have led to a challenge over the sentence being unduly lenient) and sentenced him to the five year minimum term.  It was noted that the individual had owned the shotgun for several years, and he claimed that he acquired it for self protection after he had been attacked a number of times.  It was also noted that he did not hand it in during the firearms amnesty that was held before the new minimum mandatory sentencing laws were brought into force.  The individual had no other convictions for firearms offenses.

I still am unsure whether the outcome in this case was a touch harsh or if it was largely fair, as the person did knowingly unlawfully possess this weapon, and took it out of his house, however drunk, seemingly with the intent to use it (or at least to threaten to use it).  The result of the incident could have been a very serious offense and far, far worse than what actually happened.   The case ultimately seems to have done a good job of highlighting across Britain how strictly firearms legislation is enforced, and is definitely one that will forevermore be enshrined in pub folklore.


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