Judge chastises police over interview without lawyer

A man accused of indecent assault was found not guilty last week after Grand Court Justice Michael Wood learned that the defendant had not been told that he had the right to an attorney without having to pay.

The man, who required an interpreter, was charged with indecently assaulting a female in February 2016.

He pleaded not guilty and elected to be tried by judge alone.

When his trial began last week, defense attorney Laura Larner applied to have the defendant’s statement excluded from evidence. Crown counsel Toying Salako did not oppose the application.

In finding the man not guilty, Justice Wood said he had read the defendant’s interview but had put it out of his mind, considering the facts of the case.

He continued, “I find it quite extraordinary in the year 2017 that a number of police officers in Cayman still do not understand the concept that if a defendant does not have funds to pay for an attorney, he can still have an attorney present.

“There has been legal aid on this island from my certain knowledge for over 20 years and I really do find it absolutely extraordinary that such basic errors which could have a very severe [effect] on serious charges are not complied with, and I would very much hope that an urgent memo be sent by the commissioner reminding all officers, not just detectives, but all officers, of not just the caution but the availability of legal aid for anyone without funds to pay for their own attorney.”

This was not the first time a defendant has been found not guilty because of police failure to inform the person of a right to a free lawyer.

In June 2014, Justice Alexander Henderson instructed a jury to find a woman not guilty of obstructing justice. The allegation was that she had tried to conceal packets of cocaine by placing them in a garbage container.

Defense attorney Nicholas Dixey argued that the woman was told by police that she had the right to speak to an attorney before being interviewed, but she was not told she could have free legal representation. The woman knew she could not afford a lawyer and she agreed to be interviewed without legal advice.

Mr. Dixey submitted that criminal suspects must be informed of their right to free legal representation before being interviewed by police officers. Justice Henderson agreed and ruled that her interview was inadmissible.

The Crown then advised that the evidence the prosecution was left with was insufficient to proceed with the case and therefore offered no evidence. It was on this basis that the judge directed the jury to return a not guilty verdict.

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