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Apr 13, 2016

Allison Major is Victorious in Challenging Draconian Gun Laws

Anthony Sylvester

A constitutional challenge filed by Belize City resident Allison Major in which he disputed the amended firearm act, concluded in the Supreme Court earlier this week.  The suit came on the heels of the arrest and imprisonment of Major in April 2012, when police stormed into a residence and detained a family of seven for firearm possession.  Despite not residing at the home, Major was also rounded up two days later and arraigned on the same firearm charge.  After being held on remand at the Belize Central Prison, Major proceeded with legal action against the Government of Belize, challenging the law and suing for damages.  Justice Michelle Arana ruled that Major’s constitutional right had indeed been violated as a result of the sweeping legislation passed to crack down on firearms offenses.  Attorney Anthony Sylvester represented Major.


Anthony Sylvester, Attorney

“In 2010, the government had passed in December of 2010 an amendment to the Firearms Act and the amendment at the time cast a much wider net than the previous provision as it related to persons who the law would now deem to be liable where a firearm was found on a particular premise. At the time I recall my colleague Dickie Bradley had spoken about the terrible consequences that this law would have had on ordinary law abiding citizens and indeed the case of Mister Major highlights that fact. That here it is a gentleman who had a visiting relationship; he was not present at the premises when the firearm was found. Indeed, the firearm and ammunition were found on the morning; the persons who were present were taken to court—one pleaded guilty—this took place in 2012. So that person would have been spending probably only have a year or so left on his time and sentence. Now he was not present; the person pleaded guilty and two days later, the members of the GSU, the police officers went in search of Mister Major and still nonetheless arrested him. He spent thirty-eight days in prison; he went through a full trial and in November of 2014, he finally was able to have his matter dismissed. Throughout the trial, the learned trial magistrate had urged the prosecution why you have this man before the court; this man ought not to have been before the court. So there was a challenge with respect to that law which creates this very unjust and this consequence to ordinary law abiding citizens. So the law was challenged on the basis that one what it did is that it pulls and cause persons to be arrested and to be carried off and sent to prison when there may be no reasonable suspicion. Now the constitution does give the state the authority to pass laws to restrict a person’s constitutional right, to limit a person’s constitutional right. But there must be reasonable suspicion that the person committed or is about to commit an offense. And the facts that I’ve disclosed, clearly there could be no reasonable basis for him to have been charged. Additionally, once a person is charged, the law presumes that you own this firearm or ammunition and you have to establish, you have to produce evidence in court to show that you didn’t know about it and it is not yours. That as well goes against the constitutional protection of presumption of innocence. And these are matters which were raised before the court and the court ruled that the state, in enacting such a law, breached the constitutional right of Mister Major and indeed it would appear that other persons in Mister Major’s situation, their constitutional rights could also have been infringed. It is very interesting that Madam Justice Arana, the trial judge, at paragraph twenty-nine of her judgment, she pointed out that she would have been more than happy to rule in favor of the government, but there was no evidence to show that the enactment of that law was based on any rational thought process and that it does appear to been a knee-jerk reaction. Admittedly at the time, there was an increase and an upsurge in crime, but that nonetheless, there has to be a balance between a state, a government’s approach to crime fighting and also a citizen’s right.”

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