From the Court of Appeal of Belize
In 2003, the appellant was an inmate at the Correctional Department in Hattiville, Belize (“the prison”) where he was serving a 20 year sentence for manslaughter. It was the prosecution case that on 17 June 2003, he murdered a fellow inmate.
Prison Officer Jacinto Pop was a crucial prosecution witness at the trial. He said that he was working on perimeter guard duty on the roof of the medium security section of the prison when he saw two inmates outside cell 12 on the lower floor. He saw one push the other (subsequently identified as the deceased) up against the door to cell 12 and make a single punching movement towards his chest. The deceased fell to the floor.
PO Pop was unable to provide any identification of the inmate who made the punching movement and he did not see a knife. But he did say that no other inmates were involved in the struggle. He said that he saw the first inmate walk from cell 12 towards cell 1 and the stairs where Prison Officer Ernesto De Leon was standing. It was at this point that he saw that the first inmate was holding a knife which he dropped when he was confronted by PO De Leon. He also saw another inmate run up the stairs, but said that this inmate had not been involved in the incident outside cell 12.
There were two grounds of appeal. The first was that counsel then acting for the appellant (Mr Twist) failed to challenge the critical evidence of PO Pop. The second was that the judge erred in admitting evidence of a confession made by the appellant to PO Gladden while he was being taken to the Control Tower and that, having admitted it, the judge failed to take steps to ensure that the jury disregarded it once its effect had been undermined during the cross-examination of PO Gladden.
The first ground of appeal: counsel’s failure to challenge the evidence of PO Pop.
The Board was not persuaded that Mr Twist’s conduct of the defence was such as to cause it to have doubts about the safety of the conviction or give rise to a risk that a grave and substantial miscarriage of justice had occurred in the case. The Board held that Mr Twist might have had tactical reasons for not challenging a part of the evidence of PO Pop. Or his failure to challenge the evidence might had been an oversight on his part. But it did not affect the safety of the conviction.
The second ground of appeal
Counsel for the appellant submitted that a confession which should not have been admitted in evidence because it had been obtained in breach of the Judges’ Rules. He submitted that, having ruled that the confession evidence was admissible, the judge ought to have discharged the jury or at least given them a strong direction not to take it into account. It was further contended that since the judge had said nothing at all about the evidence, there was a real risk that the jury would take it into account against the appellant to his great prejudice. But the Board was not persuaded. The Board observed that the judge was placed in a difficult position by the fact that the witness statement of 18 June 2003 was not put in evidence. But it was clear from the evidence given by PO Gladden that it was materially different from the account that he had given orally. The effect of his evidence, therefore, was that his oral evidence about the confession could not stand. That is how the judge saw it and there was no other interpretation reasonably to put on PO Gladden’s evidence. And it was treated by everybody thereafter as having no part to play in the case. Also the jury was considering its verdict on 24 February (some 8 days after the evidence had been given). All these facts lead the Board to conclude that the judge was entitled to take the view that it was not necessary to give the jury a warning to disregard to evidence. The second ground of appeal was also rejected. The Board thus held that appeal should be dismissed.