ALTINE V. STATE: On whether wrong for single police officer to tender exhibits recovered from an accused and give evidence of collective police investigation

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Moruff O. Balogun, Esq., Vice Chairman, NBA Ijebu Ode branch.

ALTINE V. STATE: On whether wrong for single police officer to tender exhibits recovered from an accused and give evidence of collective police investigation. An insight into the decision of the Supreme Court therein. Citation: (2022) 18 NWLR PT. 1862 AT 323. Courtesy: Moruff O. Balogun Esq.


SUMMARY OF FACTS:The complainants, one Saidu Ibrahim and Hassan Ibrahim were robbed with the use of guns and cutlasses. The sum of N450, 000.00 and 24,000 Cefas were stolen from them. One of the complainants was able to see the face of the appellant and his co-defendant. He identified them because he knew them previously and their houses. They immediately reported the incident to the vigilantes who in turn arrested the culprits and handed them over to the police. Some of the money recovered from the appellant and his co-defendants were part of the sum forcefully taken from the victims.The appellant and the co-defendant were arraigned before the High Court of Justice Kwara State on a two count charge of Criminal Conspiracy and Armed Robbery. The appellant pleaded not guilty to the charge and further told the court that his confessional statement was not voluntarily made. A trial-within- trial was conducted where the appellant gave evidence that he was made to sign the said statement involuntarily. The Court however overruled his objection and admitted the statement in evidence. At the conclusion of hearing, the court found the appellant guilty as charged and convicted and sentenced him to death. Dissatisfied by the judgment of the trial court, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal which affirmed the judgment and conviction of the appellant by the trial court. Further dissatisfied, the appellant appealed to the Supreme Court.Held: The Supreme court unanimously dismissing the appeal.

The following issues were raised and discussed by the Supreme Court:
On whether wrong for single police officer to tender exhibits recovered from an accused and give evidence of collective police investigation-: It is not wrong for a single police officer to tender in court exhibits recovered from a defendant and to give evidence of collective police investigation that led to the apprehension of the defendant.In the instant case, the retracted confessional statement of the appellant in Exh P6 was direct, positive admission of guilt and thus cogent enough to sustain a conviction. This is because the statement meets the probability or credibility tests. PW1, the 1.P.O. tendered the exhibits recovered from the appellant and the co -defendant at trial.The items, dane gun and money, tendered in court as exhibits were the same things the appellant had admitted that he used and stole respectively in exh. P6 which were recovered from him during police investigation and handed over to PW1. The evidence of police investigation proved the guilt of the appellant beyond reasonable doubt.In the circumstances, the prosecution proved the case of conspiracy and armed robbery against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt. Having given thorough scrutiny to the judgments of the two lower courts, they are not perverse in their reasoning and conclusion. There is no reason to upset the concurrent findings of fact of the two Lower courts. The judgment of the Court of Appeal which affirmed the judgment of the trial court convicting the appellant of conspiracy and armed robbery was therefore affirmed.

On Effect of failure to call interpreter of confessional statement as witness-:Failure to call the interpreter of a confessional statement as well as the person who recorded the statement as witnesses renders the confessional statement inadmissible in court. In the absence of the interpreter in court, the document is regarded as documentary hearsay. Where the prosecution’s case is basely solely on a confessional statement and the police officer who recorded it in the native language and the person or officer who interpreted it into English or vice versa were not called to give evidence on oath during the trial, the conviction would be set aside. In respect of the point; whether the evidence during the trial-within-trial suffices and the interpreter need not be recalled to give evidence of how the statement was taken during the main trial, there is no doubt that the rationale behind the requirement that the interpreter must be called is that given the fact that it is the interpreter who understands both the language spoken by the defendant and the language understood by the officer who recorded the statement, it is the interpreter who can know exactly the circumstances under which the statement was taken, the types of questions asked the defendant etc. These questions and answers would determine whether the statement was voluntarily made, whether the defendant was tricked into implicating himself and reflected the exact contents of what the defendant confessed to.In the instant case, the evidence of TW3 at the trial-within-trial regarding the circumstances under which the statement was taken satisfies the requirement that the statement reflected what the appellant intended to say. Therefore, there was no need for a further confirmation of the circumstance, in which the statement was taken.The legal implication of the statement being documentary hearsay has been removed by the testimony of the interpreter during trial-within-trial. The circumstances are different from where no interpreter was called during the trial at any point to tell the court the circumstances under which he did the interpretation and the questions put to the defendant and the answers given which he put in the language of the court or vice versa. The general rule of law is not set in stone particularly where at some point are the trial the interpreter was called and the defence and an opportunity to cross examine the officer on now the statement was taken and translated.

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On whether court can convict upon confessional Statement of accused alone-:By the provision of Section 28 of the Evidence Act 2011, as amended, confession is an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime stating or suggesting the inference that he committed the offence. Once a confessional statement has been made voluntarily, and it is direct, positive, and unequivocal and clearly amounts to an admission of guilt, it can still ground a conviction regardless of the fact that the maker resiled therefrom or retracted same completely at the trial. There is nothing sacrosanct about a confession, thus, the fact that an accused has retracted a confessional statement does not mean that the court cannot act upon it. However, it is desirable to have some evidence outside the retracted confession before a conviction is based on the retracted confession. In the instant case, the appellant’s confessional statement, exhibit P6 was made voluntarily, and it was direct, positive, and unequivocal; and clearly an admission of guilt. It can ground a conviction and the two courts below were right to so hold.

Courtesy:Moruff O. Balogun Esq.Vice Chairman,NBA Ijebu Ode branch.0805287141409121207712 [WHATSAPP]

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