Member of the United States National Rifle Association (NRA) Jason James Grogg faces heft fine or jail sentence on firearm and ammunition charges
A US national, Jason James Grogg, is awaiting sentencing by the court following his guilty plea to possession of several rounds of ammunition and a firearm. An earlier decision by Magistrate Michael Laudat not to impose a custodial sentence has been rescinded based on his financial records.
On April 24, 2024, Grogg, his wife Jennifer Elaine and his daughter Hannah Elaine were brought before the magistrate's court and slapped with several firearm and ammunition-related offences.
The couple were not required to enter a plea for two indictable matters of trafficking in firearms and ammunition.
However, on the summary charges of possession of one black and grey Glock 19 pistol, 15 live rounds of 9mm ammunition, and four Glock 19 magazines, each containing 15 rounds of ammunition, found at his home in Belfast, Mahaut, on April 17 and 18, 2023, Jason pleaded guilty whilst his wife and daughter entered not guilty pleas.
Additionally, they were charged with possessing 17 20-gauge Winchester ammunition and the two camouflage magazine pouches, each containing two 5.56 magazines, each containing 30 rounds of ammo totaling 120 of 5.56 shells found in a container he possessed, which he also pleaded guilty to.
The Director of Public Prosecution, Sherma Dalrymple, withdrew the seven complaints against his wife and 18-year-old daughter following his guilty plea.
On that same day, the High Court also ruled that the arrest and detention of Grogg's three minor children, ages 16, 14 and 12, were unconstitutional and unlawful.
The charges against the 16-year-old daughter were dropped.
When the matter returned to court on April 25, 2023, the State attorney attached to the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Marie Louise Pierre-Louis, presented the case facts to the court.
Based on the facts, acting on specific information, a police officer searched the home of Grogg in Belfast, where several pieces of ammunition and a firearm was found.
A container which belonged to him stationed at the Mahaut Gospel Tabernacle Church also contained ammunition and spent shell casing. He, along with his family, was arrested and charged.
During a plea in mitigation, defense attorneys Jilane Prevost and Julien Prevost, who represent Grogg, told the court that their client was a Christian missionary who migrated to Dominica temporarily to conduct philanthropic work.
She stated that Grogg was closely associated with philanthropic charity organizations and churches in Dominica before his arrival.
The attorney said upon residency in Mahaut, Grogg and his family have been warmly welcomed and respected as they have been known for their charitable works, including Bible school and vocational training in carpentry, which Grogg hosted and taught to young boys in that community.
She said before her client arrived in Dominica, he was a member of the National Rifle Association in the USA, wherein he taught voluntary firearm safety training for about 15 years.
"He did not require a license for those firearms in Indiana, USA. Mr Grogg sold all his firearms, including over 30 rifles to help finances at migration to Dominica. He had no intention to travel or import any of the firearms and ammunition into Dominica," adding that he was unaware that the offensive items were in his container.
She urged the court to grant the mandatory one-third discount for his guilty plea and to temper justice with mercy against Grogg for his full cooperation with the police, his lack of a criminal record before his arrest, his good character and his family's dependency on him as the sole financial provider.
In conclusion, of her plea in mitigation, Prevost averred, given the circumstances, the court should impose a noncustodial sentence but a "reasonable fine" against Grogg.
The maximum penalty on summary conviction of possession of firearm and ammunition is a fine of $20,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 years, or fine and confinement.
Magistrate Laudat said the court is aware that the new sentencing guidelines regarding firearm-related offences must be applied unless the court deviates from the guidelines in the public's interest.
"Possession of firearm and ammunition are serious offences in the Commonwealth of Dominica, especially when an entity of the State is used during the commissioning of the crime."
He added that concerns over the escalation of firearm-related offences in Dominica have brought an outcry from the general public.
"It is not in the public's interest and the interests of justice for this court to adhere to the sentencing guidelines. To do so would be a "mockery" of the administration of justice and remove the confidence of the public in the judicial system."
Laudat continued, "A message must be sent out loud and clear that illegal possession of firearms and ammunition will not be tolerated or welcomed in Dominica due to its visible impact."
He said that the sentencing guideline does not take away the discretion that the Magistrate has to impose a sentence which will increase the public's confidence in the administration of justice as there is a need for the court to promote public confidence.
Recognizing that Grogg is a first-time offender, assisted with the investigation and pleaded guilty at the first opportunity, Laudat said he is not inclined to impose a custodial sentence.
When questioned on his ability to pay a fine, Grogg needed help to provide the court with a satisfactory response.
Despite his attorney's attempts to sway the court in imposing a fine with time to pay, Magistrate Laudat said the court would grant this request to a nonnational.
According to section 104 of the Magistrate's Code of Procedure, Grogg was remanded into custody at the Dominica State Prison pending his submission of his financial records to the court.
The matter was adjourned to May 5, 2023, unless his attorney can "move the court" before this date.
Only two days later, the defendants' attorneys came back before the court with an offer.
Grogg's financial records from his account in the USA and Dominica were presented to the court, showing pittance.
According to his attorneys, Grogg, who has since retired as a millwright in the USA, transferred his retirement funds to his account in Dominica upon migration in 2021. Since then, the monies have "expired."
However, they presented US $4000 (EC$10,810.20) for their client's release.
In response, Magistrate Laudat stated this was "not enough" and to impose such a fine would be a mockery of the administration of justice and remove the confidence of the public in the judicial system.
The attorneys then offered EC$20,000 to the court, which was again rejected.
Exasperated, Grogg's attorneys pleaded with the court to inform the defendant of the fine it was minded to impose against him, but such information was not forthcoming from the Magistrate.
In response, the presiding Magistrate instructed the lawyer to review past sentences handed down by the court against persons who had been charged with a firearm-related offence.
"You have to move the court with a forthwith offer," Laudat declared.
But in response, Julien Prevost stated, "The court is heavy; it cannot be moved. We have scrapped up everything we have and offered to the court, but it is unfair to the defendant that the court will not tell us what fine it will impose."
Laudat contended, "When an entity of the state is used during the commissioning of an offence, a clear message needs to be sent."
Grogg, too pleaded with the court to impose a sentence against him.
"Sir, I would like my wife to be released, so I would like the court to proceed with a sentence against me and send me to prison. We have four children at home."
However, succeeding the lengthy proceeding, Magistrate Laudat said the court would deal with each charge based on its totality.
"So instead of fining him $20,000 for each firearm and ammunition found, the court will set the fine at $20,000 for all the ammunition and $20,000 for the firearms offence, a total of $40,000."
Based on Grogg's financial records, he noted that the court is rescinding its decision to impose a noncustodial sentence. Jilane Prevost then begged the court to maintain the initial sentencing date of May 5, 2023, which Magistrate Laudat granted.
Although the DPP withdrew the seven summary charges against his wife, Jennifer Elaine Grogg, she is still jointly charged with her husband on two indictable charges of trafficking firearms and ammunition into Dominica. As a result, Jason James Grogg and his wife, Jennifer Elaine Grogg, were remanded in custody at the Stock Farm Prison.
- By Ronalda Luke