WHEN WILL A TRIAL-WITHIN-TRIAL NOT BE CONDUCTED?
CASE TITLE: WANZAM v. FRN (2019) LPELR-48006(CA)
JUDGMENT DATE: 3RD JULY, 2019
PRACTICE AREA: CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE
LEAD JUDGMENT: JAMES SHEHU ABIRIYI, J.C.A.
SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:
This appeal borders on Criminal Law and Procedure.
This appeal is against the judgment delivered on 9th May 2016 in the Federal High Court, Yola Judicial Division holden at Yola.
At the Federal High Court, the Appellant and seven others were charged with conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction of officers of National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) from carrying out their lawful duty contrary to Sections 14 (b) and 49 (a) of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act.
The Respondent’s case against the Appellant at the Federal High Court was that consequent upon an earlier surveillance over the Appellant’s shop and other drug dealers, officers of the NDLEA undertook an operation which was aborted because while Pw1 who was in the advanced team was already in the shop of the Appellant, incognito waiting, somebody ran and told the Appellant that NDLEA officers were around. The Appellant then took a cutlass and ran out. According to Pw1 the Appellant was shouting “thief, thief” as he ran into someone’s compound. But Pw2 said he saw the Appellant with the cutlass chanting NDLEA officers are here, they cannot succeed as he moved from one place to another mobilizing people. Then a mob surged and attacked the NDLEA officers leaving their leader and another officer of the NDLEA dead.
Although he had earlier made a clean breast of the offence charged in a statement to the police, the Appellant in his testimony in Court made a U-turn and stated that he was in his house on the date of the incident. On that day, the hard drug dealers had a fight with the officers of NDLEA inside the market. The day was a market day. People were running out of the market. He was having his bath. He wore his clothes and came out. He did not have a shop in the market and did not sell Indian hemp. It is not true that Pw1 was in his shop on that day. People were leaving the market. “It was a huge trouble.” He did not see the NDLEA officers. It is not true that he picked a cutlass and said “customer find your way” and started shouting “thief, thief.” It is not correct that he was followed and he jumped into someone’s compound. The Respondent’s witnesses only told the Court what they wanted. He wondered how he could use a cow horn on someone holding a gun. After the trouble, he and other people left the village.
After considering the evidence adduced by the parties and addresses of learned counsel, the Federal High Court found the Appellant, and the others, guilty on both counts, convicted and sentenced him to a prison term of twenty (20) years for conspiracy to obstruct officers of the NDLEA from discharging their lawful duties and another twenty (20) years prison term for the offence of obstruction of NDLEA officers from carrying out their lawful duties in the process of which two officers lost their lives and two others were seriously injured. Both sentences were to run concurrently.
Dissatisfied with the judgment of the Federal High Court, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The Court determined the appeal on the following issues as formulated by the appellant:
- Whether the learned trial judge was not wrong in law and occasioned a miscarriage of justice against the Appellant when he admitted the confessional statement of the Appellant in evidence as a voluntary confessional statement in spite of all overwhelming evidence led by the Appellant at the trial-within-trial session.
- Having regard to the evidence adduced by the Appellant and the entire circumstances and the approach adopted by the trial Court in this case, in delivering the judgment, whether the trial Court was right in convicting and sentencing the Appellant as charged.
- Whether the Respondent proved the case of conspiracy and obstruction of officers of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency in carrying out their duty beyond reasonable doubt against the Appellant as charged, as required by law to ground the conviction and sentence of the Appellant.
In conclusion, the Court dismissed the appeal.
- CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE – SENTENCING: Whether a court can impose a sentence heavier than that imposed by law
- EVIDENCE – TRIAL WITHIN TRIAL: Instances where a trial-within-trial will not be conducted
- EVIDENCE – EVIDENCE OF CO-ACCUSED PERSON: Whether a confessional statement made by one accused person which is against his co-accused will constitute evidence against that co-accused
- CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE – DOUBT: Whether doubt in a criminal trial must be resolved in favour of the accused