He was acquitted of the charge but Allyson Major Sr. is asking the Supreme Court of Belize to strike down that portion of the Firearms Act passed in 2010 that casts a wide net of suspicion over persons in the general vicinity of a firearm. Major was arrested and charged in April of 2012 over a 16-gauge shotgun and two different kinds of ammunition found at a Peter Seco Street residence in Belize City for which five other persons had previously been charged and one had pleaded guilty in court. Despite his insistence that he does not reside at the residence and has never lived there, police took him in and the Magistrate’s Court remanded him under the provisions of the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act. He spent as much as 38 days in prison before getting Supreme Court bail. Major’s attorney is Anthony Sylvestre.
“We are in court making principally 2 arguments, they are very detailed and lengthy arguments but they’re substance are very brief. One that is right is constitutional right, not to be arrested, not to be detained and not to lose his freedom unless there is reasonable suspicion. That right was violated, there was no reasonable suspicion for this man to have been arrested and detained and carted off for to prison for 38 days. He didn’t have the ability to secure an attorney so he had to wait thirty-eight days until his family could pool together some money to secure an attorney to obtain bail at the Supreme Court. That is an injustice. That is something that happens on a day to day basis and Mr. Major has taken the brave challenge to bring this matter to Court. That We’ve also challenged in his right to be presume innocent. The law under consideration, also makes it mandatory that look, in addition to deeming you to be in possession of illegal firearm and ammunition, you have to now go to a court and prove your innocence. So Major went through a full trial, he was able to be acquitted but a citizen should not be put through that where they would have to obtain the service of an attorney. because as you know, a lay person having to go through a trial on his or her own may not be able to put forward the necessary evidence, asked the necessary questions to be able to establish certain things. So these are things which ordinary citizens under the existing law are still faced with and therefore the case is an extremely important case and it is one which, in my humble opinion, is one of the more important Constitutional challenges that has been made in recent years.”
As Sylvestre points out the Government has made cosmetic changes to the Act and hundreds, if not thousands, of Belizeans are still caught in the net on a daily basis. Sylvestre argued in court that in his client’s case, police had no evidence suggesting reasonable suspicion that Major was involved, in contravention of his right not to be deprived of his personal liberty subject to that reasonable suspicion of commission of a crime under Section 5 (1) (e) of the Constitution, and that he was effectively forced to prove his innocence under the terms of the Act, contrary to Section 6 (3) (c) of the Constitution that establishes presumption of innocence. He is seeking aggravated and exemplary damages for his ordeal as well as special damages for loss of earnings during his prison stay. The Attorney General and officers of the Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) who conducted the raid are represented by Deputy Solicitor General Nigel Hawke and co-counsel Ravel Gonzalez and Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana reserved her decision this afternoon after arguments concluded. Sylvestre discusses the need for balance with a law like this that threatens the safety of all Belizeans based on suspicion.
“We accept that there is what may be regarded as Fire Arms and Ammunition but the importance and the balance has to be stroked. How will you address that concern and how will you address the rights of a citizen. It has been said time and time again, by many, that the balance is not clear and that Is why we are here in court today.”