Man acquitted on appeal as statement was given to police without lawyer present
A man who had admitted to dealing ecstasy has been acquitted on appeal.
Roderick Castillo, 38, had been arraigned by then Inspector (now Assistant Commissioner) Dennis Theuma in 2008, charged with possession and trafficking of ecstasy. In December 2013, he was found guilty and sentenced to 9 months imprisonment and a fine of €1500.
Castillo had filed an appeal, his lawyers, Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia, arguing that his conviction was based solely on a statement he had released to the police upon his arrest. In that statement, Castillo had said that he had passed the pills on to his girlfriend to smuggle them into a party they were going to that night.
But his statement had also been taken in the absence of a lawyer – a practice which was perfectly legal at the time, but which has subsequently been ruled unconstitutional.
The Court of Criminal Appeal, presided by judge Antonio Mizzi, said it could not but refer to recent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and other courts that stipulate that a person under arrest has a right to legal assistance from the very beginning of the police investigation, even whilst releasing statements and in the absence of this assistance, a breach of human rights would have occurred.
As the only evidence against the accused in this case was his statement, the Court of Appeal ruled the man’s conviction to be unsafe.
“Once… the only evidence brought against him was the statement he had released in breach of his fundamental rights to a fair hearing, then he should never have been found guilty of the charges brought against him.”
Citing Republic of Malta vs Chukwudi Samuel Onyabor, the court ordered the removal of the man’s statement from the acts of the case and, as this was the only evidence in the case against him, revoked the previous judgment and declared him not guilty.