NWLR This Week: When Court Can Convict The Accused on His Extra-Judicial Statement

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Appeal: The State v. Danjuma John Obobolo

Appeal No: SC/741/2014

Court: Supreme Court

Justices: IBRAHIM TANKO MUHAMMAD, J.S.C. (Presided)
MARY UKAEGO PETER-ODILI J.S.C. (Read the Leading Judgment)
OLUKAYODE ARIWOOLA, J .S .C.
KUMAI BAYANG AKA’ AHS, J .S.C.
AMINA ADAMU AUGIE, J.S.C.

Citation: (2018) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1610) P.399

Facts:

The respondent along with four others was arraigned at the High Court of Kogi State on a three (3) count charge of conspiracy, armed robbery and culpable homicide contrary to sections 97(1), 298 (C) and 221 of the Penal Code. He pleaded not guilty to the charge.

At the trial, the defence counsel Mr. I. Ibrahim raised an objection as to the admissibility of the confessional statements on the ground that they were not voluntarily made. The objection led to a trial-within-trial.

However on the 30th day of June 2006, Mr. I. Ibrahim sent in a letter requesting for a stand-down of the case till 12 noon to enable him appear in the matter for the continuation of the evidence of the third witness in the mini-trial. The court rejected the application and allowed in one Mr. Ayo Jonathan who claimed to be a counsel briefed by the Attorney General of the Federation to lead the defence. The said Mr. Ayo Jonathan applied without consulting with the accused persons to withdraw the objection made by Mr. I. Ibrahim. The application was not opposed by the prosecuting counsel.

Consequently, the court aborted the mini-trial and did not make a ruling on the voluntariness or otherwise of the statements. It granted the application to withdraw the objection and all the statements attributed to the accused persons were respectively admitted as exhibits P2-P6. The one attributed to the respondent was exhibit P2.

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None of the evidence of the prosecution witnesses directly linked the respondent with the commission of the offences charged.

The respondent testified as the 1st accused. He denied the charge and also the making of the extra-judicial statement which was admitted by the trial court in evidence as exhibit P2.

In its judgment, the trial court relying on exhibit P2 held that the prosecution proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. It therefore convicted the respondent as charged and sentenced him accordingly.

Aggrieved by the judgment, the respondent appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction and sentence handed on the respondent and allowed the appeal. Dissatisfied, the appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.

On when court can convict an accused on his extra-judicial statement. 

A court may convict an accused person on his extra judicial confession upon the condition that such confessional statement must be properly proved to have been freely and voluntarily made, unequivocal, direct and positive and shown to be adequate to warrant and sustain a finding of guilt. [Adekoya v. State (2012) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1306) 539; Bature v. State (1994) 1 NWLR (Pt. 320) 267; Alarape v. State (2001) 5 NWLR (Pt.705) 79 referred W.]. (P. 424, paras. A-C)

Per PETER-ODILI, J.S.C. at page 424 paras. C-G:

“In this instance where the voluntariness of the extra judicial statement cannot be guaranteed in a situation where the defence counsel, Isiaka Ibrahim Esq. had strongly on the prompting of the accused respondent objected to the tendering of the statement on the ground that he was tortured and forced to sign it and a trial-within-7trial was quickly empanelled by the learned trial judge. Proceedings therein had gone very far only for a new counsel, Ayo Jonathan coming in when Isiaka Ibrahim Was absent and had written for a stand down to a specified time. The court without doing the needful that is seek the authorization of the accused gave the new counsel, the floor to operate. Also of note is that the counsel claimed to have been briefed by the Federal Attorney-General to take over the defence, again, the opinion of the man in issue was not sought. Then the new counsel set out to carry out a fundamental assignment in withdrawing the earlier objection over the statement which had set in motion the trial-Within-trial and thereby having that mini-trial stopped and allowing the contentious statement admitted without objection. These circumstances being questionable cannot produce a situation whereby the statement’s voluntariness is not doubtful. Such doubt or course would be resolved in favour of the accused/respondent.”

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