A jury was ordered to return a verdict of not guilty Monday after evidence showed police brutality involved in the confession.
‘I make no bones about it. In this case there was police brutality,’ Mrs. Justice Priya Levers told the jury in a burglary/robbery trial.
The judge explained that the Crown had one piece of evidence when the trial started. After a hearing in the jury’s absence, she had found that evidence to be inadmissible.
When the Crown offered no further evidence, the judge directed the jury to return not guilty verdicts.
Ezekiel Nelson Carter, Christopher McCardy Miller and Terrence Tex Bryan had been charged with aggravated burglary and robbery after an incident last year in which firearms were stolen from a private residence (Caymanian Compass, 4 June 2004).
When they first appeared in court after their arrest, Carter was 19; Miller, 24; and Bryan, 17. At the time the Crown Counsel said all three had made admissions.
After trial began in Grand Court last month, Defence Attorneys Laurance Aiolfi, Nicholas Dixey and John Furniss challenged confession statements that the Prosecution wanted to put in evidence. The challenge was on the basis that the ‘confessions’ had been given under threat of violence.
Mrs. Justice Levers held a special hearing on this aspect of the case. She made her ruling on 11 February. The trial was scheduled to resume with the jury on 7 March.
On that day, Bryan pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods – one gold bracelet – and the Crown offered no evidence on the other counts of the indictment.
After the jury returned its verdicts and Carter and Miller were discharged, Miller addressed the court.
He pointed out that he had spent time in custody, he had lost jobs and his name had been in the newspapers because of this charge. He wondered if he could clear things up. The judge suggested that he speak to his attorney.
She told all three that they were lucky young men. ‘I don’t know whether you did the crime or not. I applied the law,’ she said. ‘Please, don’t let me see you again.’
In her ruling, Mrs. Justice Levers summarised the evidence that had come to light during the special hearing. She pointed out that the burden of proof is on the Crown to establish that the statements were given voluntarily.
She also commented on the background against which she had to assess the credibility of the police witnesses.
Four apparently experienced and front line police officers gave evidence, she pointed out. Although video cameras and tape recordings are well established pieces of equipment, ‘not one police officer had a contemporaneous note of the event.
‘Two of the officers had some notes which at times proved to be erroneous. (One) admitted that he was too lazy to take notes.’
The judge described police evidence as ‘appallingly contradictory’ and cited examples such as who was the arresting officer, whether an interview was done with a certain defendant on a particular date; when a defendant allegedly told police about the guns.
‘Despite this, I am aware that the credibility of police evidence is to be looked at in the context of all the evidence. Unless breaches are fundamental, it cannot be said that the confessions were involuntary,’ the judge said.
She hoped, however, that in the future officers would be reminded of the importance of accuracy, especially when important matters are examined such as a person’s rights while in custody.
The judge then addressed allegations by the defendants that they were beaten.
In the matter of Christopher Miller, all of the officers said he was not injured when taken into custody. Miller himself said he was beaten from the time of his arrest and at his interview. He said he received injuries to his eyes, ears and neck.
The police said there was no record of him having any injuries when he was locked down for the night. But, the judge pointed out, Miller had to be taken to hospital the next morning.
The doctor who examined him came to court and gave evidence that Miller was badly bruised and had injuries around his neck and ears. In his opinion, the injuries were caused by a blunt instrument, were 24 to 48 hours old and were consistent with Miller’s allegations.
The judge said she had no doubt that the injuries were received while in police custody. Only Miller offered an explanation of how they had occurred.
‘Whether the police prepared a statement or whether Mr. Miller confessed to matters is not for me to decide at this stage. There was clearly violence used to get him to confess, and I therefore hold that the statements given by Mr. Miller are inadmissible.’
Defendant Carter also alleged that he was beaten. He was not seen by a doctor, but the court found it ‘difficult to disassociate the proven bad behaviour of the police officers in Mr. Miller’s case from Carter’s case. It is rare that the Defence is fortunate to have proof as Miller had,’ the judge said.
The violence, along with inaccuracies about Carter’s interview, made his confession both unreliable and oppressive. His statements were therefore inadmissible, the judge ruled.
Defendant Bryan also alleged he was hit. He further alleged that he was not offered an attorney until after caution statement and this was confirmed by the interviewing officer.
‘But perhaps the most revealing admission came from Crown Counsel, who submitted that it is the practice in this jurisdiction not to offer an attorney until the caution statement is taken.
‘The Judges’ Rules are clear that a person is entitled to an attorney, but this is even more important when one is dealing with a 17-year-old who is being questioned for some four or five hours straight,’ the judge emphasised.
The lack of a lawyer would not necessarily make Bryan’s confessions inadmissible. But the unreliability of the witnesses and the evidence of violence already proven in Miller’s case, to the judge’s mind, were of considerable influence. She therefore held that Bryan’s confessions were also inadmissible.
Finally, Mrs Justice Levers commented on the absence of two police officers, one who was alleged to have hit Miller but who apparently refused to come to court and give evidence. A custody sergeant due to give evidence did not.
She said one was left to wonder whether justice would have been done if Miller had not been seen by the doctor.
Bryan’s sentencing for handling stolen goods was adjourned.
‘Despite this, I am aware that the credibility of police evidence is to be looked at in the context of all the evidence. Unless breaches are fundamental, it cannot be said that the confessions were involuntary.’
Mrs. Justice Levers