By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A MAN has been given a conditional discharge for being caught with a loaded firearm because he planned to “do the right thing” and turn it in to police, but was afraid to do so.
On Monday, Senior Magistrate Derence Rolle-Davis ordered Vaughn Johnson to serve two years’ probation for admitting to being caught with a loaded 9mm pistol in his car.
Should Johnson be convicted within that time, he will receive a $2,500 fine, according to the senior magistrate. If he doesn’t breach the conditional discharge, his record will stay clean.
The senior magistrate said Johnson’s case was one where the “balance must be made between creating a criminal of a person who intended to do the right thing, but was caught up in the fear of punishment if he presented himself to the police”.
As such, he said, the country’s justice system “should be designed to help those who wish to do justice and not put them in the fearful state of reprisal”.
According to the ruling, the whole thing started because of an argument Johnson had with his girlfriend, K Robinson. On that day, and out of revenge, Ms Robinson called the police to the house that both she and Johnson occupied. When the officers arrived at the residence, Johnson told them: “I already have a .380 firearm in the car.”
The car was subsequently searched by two officers, one of whom pulled a 9mm Smith & Wesson firearm from under the driver’s seat with one live round of ammunition.
Johnson claimed he found the weapon in some bushes while working on a contract for cleaning the sidewalk. When he inspected the gun, he found it had one bullet inside. He said he subsequently put the gun in his car and planned to take it to the police station. After a few days, however, he became afraid of having the gun and felt that if he went to the police station with the gun, the officers wouldn’t believe his story and he would be arrested.
As a result, Johnson spoke with his pastor, Julian Johnson of Grace Apostolic Global Ministries, to accompany him to the station. However, Pastor Johnson was unavailable to assist at that time. An independent report was prepared, which revealed that Pastor Johnson was interviewed and confirmed that Johnson did in fact contact him about accompanying him to turn the gun into the police.
Pastor Johnson said he was travelling that day and rescheduled a time for Johnson to return to see him, but he did not. Pastor Johnson later learned of Johnson being charged.
Johnson made his first appearance in the Magistrate’s Court on October 15, 2018. On November 6 of that year, he pleaded not guilty and the matter was set for trial. Evidence was taken on June 3 of this year after several attorneys appeared before the court and requested adjournments.
On July 8, however, and with a new attorney, Johnson changed his plea to guilty.
In sentencing Johnson, Senior Magistrate Rolle-Davis considered whether he should “deviate” from the norm in handing down a custodial sentence based on the circumstances of the case.
Two things worked in Johnson’s favour—his pastor vouching for his attempt at turning the gun into the police, and the explanation he gave as to how he came to be in possession of the gun, notwithstanding the fact that he kept the weapon for three weeks and consequently placed it in his car. Additionally, Senior Magistrate Rolle-Davis noted that Johnson had an otherwise clean record and was employed at the time he was arrested.
Thus, the senior magistrate said he was “satisfied” Johnson should “receive the benefit of rehabilitation”.
“The court, having regard to all the circumstances of this case, is satisfied that the deviation from the standard of imprisonment should be followed,” he said.
Johnson was represented by attorney Jomo Campbell.