A Surrey drug dealer who was ready for “gun warfare” has had three years shaved off of his prison sentence by the appeal court.
Justice Catherine Murray on Sept. 10, 2018 sentenced 26-year-old Jagdeep Singh Cheema to eight years in prison – the Crown and defence had jointly argued for five – after he pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and firearms-related crimes.
When Murray sentenced Cheema, in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster, she noted that drug-related violence in Surrey is “out of control” and Cheema, who used his family’s home as the hub of his drug operation, “was obviously ready and willing to engage in gun warfare.”
“I am not satisfied that the sentence proposed by counsel satisfies the public interest test,” Murray said in her reasons for sentencing. “Rather, it is my view that it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute and cause informed, reasonable people to lose faith in the criminal justice system. Accordingly, I cannot accede to the joint submission.”
Cheema pleaded guilty on April 16, 2018 to one count of possession for the purpose of trafficking heroin, a count of possession for the purpose of trafficking in heroin and fentanyl, and possession of a restricted Spikes Warthog semiautomatic gun, with ammo, possession of a Spikes Hellbreaker semiautomatic gun with ammo, and unsafe storage of a Core-15 semiautomatic gun and a Spikes Kel Tec Sub 2000 9mm-calibre gun.
However, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia has decided to reduce Cheema’s sentence to five years from eight after his counsel argued that Murray erred by rejecting the joint submission, “treating the proceeding as if it were a conventional sentencing and failing to consider factors critical to the public interest,” Justice Gail Dickson noted in her reasons for judgment.
Justices John Hunter and Bruce Butler concurred.
Cheema’s lawyer Richard Peck argued that the joint five-year sentence submission fell within the range established by the case law, Dickson noted, and “would not bring the administration of justice into disrepute, nor was it otherwise contrary to the public interest.”
Cheema was 23 and living with his parents and brother when he committed his crimes. His lawyer at appeal argued that Murray “considered irrelevant and unproven matters by relying on what she saw as the community of Surrey’s preference for significant sentences in the context of drug-related violence.”
Dickson said Cheema’s guilty pleas “saved valuable time, resources and expenses from an administrative perspective” despite the fact they were not entered until the first day of the scheduled trial.
“However,” she added, “the judge did not take these important factors into account.”
The appeal court judge said the five-year sentence proposed was within the range established by case law and that the sentencing judge “cited no authority to justify the eight-year sentence she imposed relative to the five-year sentence jointly proposed by counsel.
“Instead,” Dickson found, “she seemingly relied primarily on her view that drug trafficking and associated violence are problems of epic proportion and that, in consequence, a strong message must be sent to Mr. Cheema and others of like mind.”
“In my view,” Dickson concluded, “given the established range of sentences that applied, it cannot reasonably be argued that the joint submission was unhinged from the circumstances of the offences and the offender to an extent that would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.”
She found “there was no basis for the judge to substitute her opinion as to an appropriate sentence for the considered agreement reached by counsel based on their knowledge and negotiations with respect to the guilty pleas.
“The judge erred in principle in rejecting the joint submission. A well-informed member of the public, armed with the knowledge of the circumstances of the offence and offender, would not conclude the joint submission represented a breakdown of the effective operation of the criminal justice system.”