Court of Appeal says judge failed to direct jury properly
Justin D’Angelo Ramoon, 22, was released from custody last Friday after the Court of Appeal overturned his conviction for wounding with intent and entered a verdict of acquittal for him.
Ramoon was sentenced in July 2013, to seven years, nine months’ imprisonment after a Grand Court jury found him not guilty of attempted murder, but guilty of wounding with intent to cause serious bodily harm. Ramoon was accused of stabbing Andrew Lopez in the early hours of Aug. 25, 2012, behind Archie’s Bar on Shedden Road.
The question for the jury was the identity of the attacker. The Court of Appeal found that the trial judge, Justice Malcolm Swift, failed to give jurors necessary assistance and directions in determining the quality of the evidence of identification.
The only evidence of the attack came from Mr. Lopez, who was 19 at the time of the trial. He said he had known Ramoon for four or five years. He told the court about an unresolved confrontation with Ramoon and others about a week before he was stabbed. He was adamant that it was Ramoon who stabbed him and said he was not mistaken.
He said he was leaning against his car and watching a game of dominos when he suddenly felt a stab on his left side towards the rear. When he looked over his left shoulder he saw Ramoon. He turned and Ramoon was right there. He received another stab and was trying to get away, when he slipped. He broke his fall by putting out his hand and he saw Ramoon run off.
Justice Swift told the jurors: “The real question for you is whether his recognition is correct, taking all the circumstances into account and you are sure about it. When you are making that judgment, you should have regard also to any other evidence which might tend to support Mr. Lopez’s identification, if there is any.
“First let me tell you of evidence which you should not regard as support for Mr. Lopez’s recognition. His own account of the previous incident in Jah-Ts is not supporting evidence, nor is his description of the history of his relationship with the defendant supporting evidence because it comes from him. It doesn’t come from an independent source.”
Justice Swift continued: “There is in this case, I direct you, no independent supporting evidence for the accuracy of this recognition. You must decide whether you are sure that Mr. Lopez is accurate and his recognition is correct.”
The Court of Appeal said the trial judge was required to direct the jury on these issues concerning the correctness of the identification.
Justice Swift did tell they jury that “you need to bear in mind that even people well known to one another make mistakes in recognition… [Y]ou need to exercise special caution. The reason for this is that experience tells us that honest and impressive witnesses genuinely convinced of the correctness of their identification, even those who say they recognize someone, have in the past made mistakes….”
However, the Court of Appeal said, “He was required to warn them of the need for special caution before they could convict. The judge was required to tell the jury the reason why it was necessary to proceed with caution. He had to point out to the jury that a mistaken witness can be a convincing witness. The judge was also required to direct the jury that they had to examine closely the circumstances in which the identification was made.”
The trial judge did remind the jury of what Mr. Lopez said in his evidence as to the circumstances of the stabbing and his opportunity to observe his attacker: how long the incident lasted, distance between them, lighting, anything to obstruct his view.
In summarizing the circumstances of the attack, the trial judge said the jury needed to look at these circumstances carefully and look for other evidence which might support the identification. “The judge did not at this stage indicate to the jury that there was no evidence which supported the identification,” the Court of Appeal said.
The judges making up the appellate panel analyzed the trial judge’s summary of the event. They said he did point out that it was a fast moving incident, but he suggested jurors might think Mr. Lopez had enough time to see his attacker. “The judge did not remind the jury that the identification of the appellant was made in difficult circumstances as this was an essential factor….The judge ought to have pointed out that the attack was sudden and unexpected and the attacker was wearing a cap.”
In addition, the judge ought to have reminded jurors that, at the hospital after the attack, police said Mr. Lopez appeared to be highly intoxicated. During the trial, Mr. Lopez had denied this, saying he had drunk only two beers, but was agitated because of the incident.
Finally, the trial judge had directed the jury that there was no independent supporting evidence for the accuracy of Mr. Lopez’s recognition of Ramoon. But the use of the term “independent supporting evidence” was unfortunate because they jury “may well have concluded that the directions related to evidence independent of Mr. Lopez, but did not relate to evidence from Mr. Lopez himself” such as his identification of a photograph of Ramoon.
“In our opinion, the quality of the identification evidence was not good as it was made under difficult circumstances and there was no evidence capable of supporting the identification evidence of Mr. Lopez. In the circumstances, we are satisfied that the verdict was unsafe and unsatisfactory.”
The decision was made by Justices Elliot Mottley, Sir Anthony Campbell and John Martin. They heard arguments in April from defense attorneys Ben Tonner and Fiona Robertson and Crown Counsel Greg Walcolm.