➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
BALOGUN v. FRN (2021) – SC
by PipAr Chima
Supreme Court – SC.526/2018
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Friday, February 19, 2021
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
Plea of guilt;
➥ NOTABLE DICTA
⦿ REQUIREMENTS FOR CONVICTION OF UNLAWFUL POSSESSION OF INDIAN HEMP
It is the law that in order to secure a conviction for unlawful possession of Indian hemp, otherwise known as cannabis sativa, the prosecution must establish the following beyond reasonable doubt as required by Section 135 of the Evidence Act, 2011: 1. That the substance was in the possession of the accused; That it was knowingly in his possession; 3. That the substance is proved to be Indian hemp (cannabis sativa); and 4. That the accused was in possession of the substance without lawful authority. – A. Jauro JSC. Balogun v. FRN (2021)
⦿ WHAT IS A SUMMARY TRIAL IN CRIMINAL CASES?
A summary trial is therefore a short proceeding that does away with the rigours of a full trial, hearing of witnesses or tendering of documents. It is a proceeding that settles a controversy or disposes of a case in a relatively prompt and simple manner. It entails immediate action without following the rigmarole in normal legal procedure. As a matter of procedure, summary trial allows for conviction of an accused person based on his or her admission of guilt to an indictable offence other than capital. – A. Jauro JSC. Balogun v. FRN (2021)
⦿ ACCUSED DUTY TO LET THE COURT KNOW HE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THE LANGUAGE-USED
Appellant’s counsel is vehemently holding unto the position that it was the duty of the trial Court to make available to the Appellant the services of an interpreter because he is an illiterate. It must be pointed out that where the accused does not understand the language used at his trial, it is his duty or his counsel’s duty to bring to the notice of the Court at the earliest opportunity, that he does not understand the language used at trial. I think the duty of ensuring that the right thing is done is not only on the trial Judge. It is a duty as well on a party to a case or his counsel if represented by one. – A. Jauro JSC. Balogun v. FRN (2021)
⦿ FAILURE OF ACCUSED TO INFORM COURT HE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND ENGLISH
The fact that the accused does not understand the language in which the trial is being conducted is a fact well known to the accused and it is for him or his counsel to take the initiative of bringing it to the notice of the Court at the earliest opportunity. If he does not claim the right at the proper time before any damage is done, he may not be able to have a valid complaint afterwards, for example on appeal. Where the accused person refuses to inform the Court that he does not understand English Language, it will be too late for him to seek protection under Section 36(6)(e) of the Constitution to have his conviction set aside through the backdoor. – A. Jauro JSC. Balogun v. FRN (2021)
⦿ WHERE ACCUSED PLEADS GUILTY TO AN OFFENCE
The law is settled that if an accused person pleads guilty to an offence with which he is charged, the Court shall record his plea as nearly as possible in the words used by him and if satisfied that he intended to admit the truth of all the essentials of the offence of which he had pleaded guilty, the Court shall convict him of that offence and pass sentence against him unless there appear sufficient cause to the contrary. See Daniel v. F.R.N (2015) 13 NWLR (pt. 1475) 119; Kolo v. COP (2017) 9 NWLR (pt. 1569) 118. – J.I. Okoro JSC. Balogun v. FRN (2021)
⦿ PROOF BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT DENOTES PROOF TO MORAL CERTAINTY
Invariably, the term proof beyond reasonably as implored in Section 135 of the Evidence Act, denotes proof to moral certainty or standard. Thus, such proof as accords to the conscience of the trial judge as a reasonable Judge, that the crime so charged has indeed been committed by the defendant, thereby leaving no other reasonable conclusion possible. – I.M.M. Saulawa JSC. Balogun v. FRN (2021)
Federal Republic of Nigeria
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Adamu Jauro, J.S.C
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
– Chijioke O.P. Emeka, Esq.
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Femi Amos Oloruntoba, Esq.
➥ CASE HISTORY
The case of the Respondent as prosecution at trial was that on the 15th day of September, 2014, the Appellant was arrested in Agege area of Lagos State with 200 kilograms of cannabis sativa. That on the same day, the Appellant made an extrajudicial statement in Yoruba language which was interpreted into English language to officers of the NDLEA. The Appellant who was not represented by a legal practitioner pleaded guilty to the sole count and upon the close of trial, the Appellant was convicted and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by Hon. Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos State.
Dissatisfied with the decision of the trial Court, the Appellant appealed to the Court below.
Upon hearing the appeal, the Court below in its unanimous decision delivered on the 30th January, 2018 dismissed the appeal and the judgment of the trial Court convicting and sentencing the Appellant to 15 years imprisonment with hard labour was affirmed.
This is a further appeal.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION
I. Whether the prosecution discharged the burden of proof against the Appellant beyond reasonable doubt to warrant the affirmation of his conviction and sentence by the Court below?
RULING: IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR.
I.A. The Appellant at page 3 of the record of appeal pleaded guilty to the charge proffered against him. In my view, he elected the summary trial procedure under Section 33(2) of the Federal High Court Act. … By that plea, his fundamental right to presumption of innocence and defence to the charge as enshrined in the Constitution, became legitimately scuttled. I am of the view that the plea of guilt in open Court, amounts to a voluntary oral confession and this oral confession, has more evidential value than any other evidence that may be adduced against an accused person by the prosecution.
I.B. Without mincing words, I am of the view that in the light of the Appellant’s plea of guilt, all the submissions and arguments of counsel in respect of the admissibility of his confessional statements being recorded in breach of ACJA and the issue of interpretation, becomes impotent and devoid of any judicial substance. Logically, what argument can be offered challenging the admissibility of a confessional statement made ex facie curie that will take precedence over a plea of guilt made in facie curie? An extra judicial statement in accordance within the dictates of common sense cannot take credence over a judicial admission. Assuming the Appellant’s confessional statements in Exhibit PD2 and PD2a were expunged from the record, what difference does that make on the propriety of his conviction in view of his plea of guilt? None. In other words, the Appellant’s plea of guilt has superseded the issue of their admissibility and the consequences.
I.C. In the instant appeal, there was nowhere in the record that the Appellant informed the trial Court that he does not understand the language of the Court and would be needing the services of an interpreter.
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ WHERE ACCUSED PLEADS GUILTY PROSECUTION BURDEN BECOMES LIGHT
OMOJU v. FRN (2008) LPELR – 2647(SC), Tobi JSC (of blessed memory), considered the effect of an accused person’s plea of guilt on the burden placed on the prosecution where my noble Lord held thus: “The law is elementary that if an accused person pleads guilty, the burden of proof placed on the prosecution becomes light, like a feather of an ostrich. It no longer remains the superlative and compelling burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt. After all, the guilty plea has considerably shortened the distance and brought in some proximity the offence and mens rea or actus reus of the accused as the case may be. That makes it easier to locate causation or causa sine qua non.”
⦿ ACCUSED WHO PLEADS GUILTY CAN BE CONVICTED SUMMARILY
In the case of F.R.N. v. KAYODE (2019) 6 SC (Pt.1) 165 at 188, this Court, per Galumje, JSC held as follows: “The law is settled that an Accused person who pleads guilty to a criminal charge can be convicted summarily if the Court is satisfied that he intended to admit the truth of all the essentials of the offence.”
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)