Juror bias not found

C4T case on appeal

The judges of the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal said yesterday they were not persuaded by arguments alleging juror bias in the money laundering trial that ended earlier this year.

Bias was the first ground in the appeal by Patrick Tibbetts of his conviction and three-year sentence.

As a result of the ruling the appeal was scheduled to continue on three other grounds.

Attorney General Sam Bulgin QC, representing the Crown, explained bias in terms of sympathy for or prejudice against a defendant or witness.

Mr. Bulgin and Michael Wood QC, who was arguing the appeal on behalf of Tibbetts, agreed on the test for bias.

The test is whether the fair-minded and informed observer would have thought, after considering the facts, that there was a real possibility of bias on the part of the juror.

The Court of Appeal heard evidence from three persons, two of whom were witnesses in the trial. They were local residents who had invested in Cash4Titles after Tibbetts spoke to them about it. They lost money after the US-based car loan business turned into a Ponzi scheme and collapsed in mid-October 1999.

The third person was the one who submitted an affidavit concerning the association of one of these witnesses with a juror. The affidavit was delivered to the Chief Justice, who had presided over the trial, after the jury delivered its verdicts but before Tibbetts was sentenced (Caymanian Compass, 1 March).

Tibbetts was sentenced to three years imprisonment, but remained on bail pending the appeal.

The court has directed that the name of the juror not be made public.

When Mr. Wood first gave notice of appeal he referred to the questionnaire filled out by all potential jurors in April/May 2004. It had been designed to assist the judge and attorneys in determining whether there were any compelling reasons why a person should not serve as a juror in the case.

One section provided a list of Crown witnesses for the trial. The form then states: ‘Please indicate if you, your immediate family, or any close friends are associated with any of these people. If the answer is yes, please indicate how you are associated with them.’

It is understood that the juror in question did not indicate any association with a particular witness.

This witness told the Court of Appeal that he had known the juror since 1997, but the association was through his wife and his wife’s friend. He spoke of the occasions on which the four of them were together, including a trip to Canada and Colorado.

Questioned by Mr. Wood, he said he was sure he had discussed his investment in Cash4Titles with the rest of the foursome because it was the hottest investment at the time. He and the juror had invested in another business, but had lost money.

Questioned by Attorney General Sam Bulgin QC, the witness said that after mid-2000, he only saw the juror ‘in passing – as you do on a small island.’

Mr. Bulgin then asked the witness what was his relationship with the juror when he walked into the witness box to give evidence in the trial. ‘Non-existent for years,’ the witness replied.

Asked by Court president Mr. Justice Edward Zacca when he had given his evidence, the witness said June 2004. Asked by the judge if he did not associate with the juror at all for some four years, the witness replied, ‘Not at all.’

During the legal arguments that began on Tuesday morning, Mr. Justice Martin Taylor referred again to the jurors’ pre-trial questionnaire.

He pointed out that the section dealing with knowing witnesses was in the present tense: Please indicate if you are associated with any of these people. The judge said this question only sought information if the person had present associations, not information of former associations.

When Mr. Wood summed up his argument, he commented on the insidious nature of bias and speculated that the juror, unless possessed of a heart of stone, would feel sympathetic toward the witness, who had lost money on not one but two investments.

Mr. Justice Taylor observed it was inevitable that judges and juries would feel sympathetic at times. They are told not that they have to have hearts of stone but they have to have disciplined minds.

Mr. Justice Ian Forte also asked questions of both attorneys.