Crimes committed over 25 years ago haunt 62-year-old amputee

Observer West writer

Thursday, October 29, 2020

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MONTEGO BAY, St James -As a youngster, St James West Central constituent Derrick White harboured thoughts of migrating to the United States in search of a better life.

But his hopes were dashed years later— even as his mother had started to file immigration documents for him to join her there — because he was convicted on gun-related charges, which the Jamaican law doesn't allow for expungement.

“I should be in America now and dem seh mi nuh eligible fi get dem expungement, so I never get them [the conviction] expunged. The system sey that people who get over four years [sentencing] mustn't get [their records] expunged. I was on parole and out here still doing well, so mi nuh see the reason why dem shouldn't free mi,” a seemingly frustrated White told the Jamaica Observer West.

“My mother did file for me and everything did come through, is just dat [expungement] hold mi back. I feel bad about it because probably life would a better off fi mi, as well as worse, but mi think mi woulda mek it better,” he lamented.

Expungement is the formal removal of a conviction from a person's record, usually after a specified period has passed and certain conditions are fulfilled. In Jamaica, expungement is guided by the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act of 1988.

According to the Ministry of Justice website, in order to qualify for expungement, two essential conditions must be satisfied: the offence in question must be one which attracts a non-custodial sentence or sentence of imprisonment not exceeding five years; and the person in question must not have had any other conviction during a specified period of time referred to as the “Rehabilitation Period”.

These conditions have made White ineligible for the expungement based on his criminal history.

With a sad demeanour, White, an amputee, recently visited the constituency office of Member of Parliament for St James West Central Marlene Malahoo Foote, who is also the attorney general, seeking assistance.

“I was a street boy in the 70s and I got caught up at the gun court. To be frank, I had two cases, one in 1975 and one in 1995. I got sentenced on both of them. They gave me seven years sentence for both counts of robbery and shooting,” said White.

“And in 1995, one man did attack mi and mi use mi machete pon him, so mi did get five year for it, so both of them a hold mi back,” he added.

The attorney general, who met with White, explained to the Observer West that the law doesn't facilitate his request at this time.

“Currently the law doesn't allow convictions for gun offences to be expunged. You can't help but feel sorry for him [White]. He spoke of his youthful days without guidance, without parental support. He is now a grown man in his 60s and he has this [criminal record] following him through his life. There are many lessons to learn. Young persons need to understand that things that they do today could haunt them for the rest of their lives, and can make it difficult for them to find another way forward,” said Malahoo Forte.

“ I want to urge all persons who feel that whatever they do have no consequence for tomorrow, to think again and think hard.”

She told the Observer West, however, that she is willing to revisit the laws which govern the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act of 1988.

“It also causes me to wonder, as part of providing second chances to people, we should take a look at our laws again especially for those where the evidence is clear that they have truly turned their lives around and they need a fresh start, how we can provide for them. That is where my head space is right now,” said the attorney general.

White, who is diabetic, lost his left leg recently, and was also seeking help to acquire a prosthetic leg, which would assist him in making ends meet.

“The next thing again is that I am diabetic, and mi never a pay it no mind so mi lost mi leg,” he noted.

He said he is now seeking funds to purchase a prosthetic leg, which he said, cost about $550,000.

The St James West Central MP, he added, has promised to assist him with a portion of the funds.

White said, however, that he has no idea where the remaining portion is going to come from to make the purchase.

“I used to do carpenter work, build furniture and suh, and before this mi tek up taxi work, but since COVID [coronavirus pandemic] everything slow down,” he expressed.

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