⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Michael Peter v. The State (1997) – SC
by PipAr Chima
⦿ LITE HOLDING
Where circumstantial evidence is led against an accused in a criminal trial and this gives rise to the drawing of a presumption or inference irresistibly warranted by such evidence, the criminal court will not hesitate to draw such a presumption or inference, so long as it is so cogent and compelling as to convince a jury that on no rational hypothesis other than the inference can the facts be accounted for.
(1997) JELR 45390 (SC)
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
S. U. Onu, JSC
* FOR THE APPELLANT
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
That on April 11, 1986 the deceased and P.W. 1, Rebecca Jonah, at the time a 9 year old person went down together towards the stream at Moroga Village, Agege when she saw a man whom she later identified to be the appellant, carrying a bag. That the appellant asked for their names and she told him. That the appellant ran to the stream, left the bag there and ran back to grab the deceased by the neck. Whereupon, she (P.W.1) enquired what they (she and her deceased sister) had done and then explained how her sister was snatched away and she went to call the police. She further described how she was still affected by the trauma of appellant’s grabbing of the deceased from behind by her neck which frightened her and how the distance between the stream and the village was about one mile. She further narrated how upon being herself grabbed, she struggled and extricated herself and ran away, adding that she was not present when the villagers searched for her sister, caught the appellant and brought him to the Bale’s house at which many people including herself had gathered; that finally, while she identified him there and then as their attacker, although unable to identify the 2nd accused.
The appellant, Michael Peter and one Sule Iro (the third suspect having died while on remand) were arraigned before Hunponu-Wusu, J sitting at Lagos Judicial Division of the High Court of Lagos State, on a one-count charge of the murder of one Maria Jonah, an infant, at Moroga Village, off Agege, Lagos State, an offence punishable under Section 319(1) of the Criminal Code. Cap.31 of Lagos State, 1973.
The learned trial Judge after considering the evidence adduced by both sides, found the appellant guilty as charged; proceeded thereafter to convict and sentence him to death, which sentence was affirmed by the Court of Appeal (per Ayoola, JCA reading the leading judgment and concurred in by Kalgo and Pats-Acholonu, JJCA).
1. Whether the Justices of Court of Appeal were right in holding that the trial Court complied with mandatory provisions of Section 215 of the Criminal Procedure Act?
2. Whether the learned Justices of the Court below did not err in law when they sustained the trial Judge’s judgment that P.W.1, a child of 13 years, is a competent witness to testify and give sworn evidence for the prosecution as required by Sections 154(1) and 182(1) of the Evidence Act?
3. Whether the circumstantial evidence relied on by the Court was cogent and unequivocal?
4. Whether the learned Justices of the court below were right in holding that the defence of insanity does not avail the appellant?
5. Whether the appellant confessed to the commission of murder in the circumstances of this case.
6. Whether the Justices of the court below were right in holding that there were no contradictions in the case of the prosecution that vitiated his conviction.
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. ISSUE 1 IS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. I take the firm view that in the instant case, there was substantial compliance with the provisions of Section 215 of the Criminal Procedure Law as laid down in Kajubo v. The State (supra). There is nothing on the record to indicate that the appellant did not know the nature of the offence he was called upon to defend. Beside, too narrow an interpretation of the provisions and application of Section 215 of the Criminal Procedure Law would only serve to defeat the course of justice rather than enhance it.
The arraignment from the record in the instant case, (see page 13 thereof), was to the effect that – “The charge was read to each of the two accused persons in English Language. The charge was later interpreted to each of the two accused persons in Yoruba and each accused plead as follows: 1st Accused: I am not guilty. 2nd Accused: I am not guilty.”
2. ISSUE 2 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. The need for such inquiry in the italicized words of Sections 155(1) and 183(1) above only arises where the trial Judge is of the view that by his/her tender age a witness ought not to be sworn and his/her evidence would then require corroboration. It was right of the learned trial Judge in the instant case to ab initio cause the witness to be sworn since at 13 years, she would reasonably be expected to understand the questions put to her and to understand the nature of the oath even though she would still be considered a person of tender age by judicial interpretation.
3. ISSUE 3 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. I am of the respectful view in the case in hand that formidable, complete and unbroken chain of events point unequivocally to the involvement of the appellant in the murder of the deceased. While I agree that there is no direct testimony or an eye-witness account of the actual killing, the following aspects of the evidence borne out by the record, put the matter beyond any reasonable doubt:- (a) that it was the appellant who grabbed the deceased by the neck and prevented her from running away as her sister, P.W.1 did; (b) that shortly after this fact of assault and restraint, the deceased was found brutally murdered; (c) that the appellant was arrested in the vicinity of the murder shortly after P.W.1 had reported the assault on her and the deceased; and (d) that it was the oral and written confession of the appellant that led to the arrest of the other two co-conspirators.
These facts, in my view, are clearly sufficient for the learned trial Judge to arrive at the conclusion of guilt on the part of the appellant, moreso that no other person was seen around the scene of crime apart from the appellant and his comrades in crime as disclosed in appellant’s confessional statement (Exhibits “D” and “E”). This court has upheld the inference drawn by a trial court that the accused who was last seen with the deceased, as in the instant case, killed the deceased.
4. The court held that the defense of insanity does not avail the appellant. An accused person who contends that he is insane has the duty to rebut the presumption of law which presumes every person to be of sound mind at any time which comes in question until the contrary is proved. In the present case, there was no evidence whatever as to the mental condition of the appellant at the time of the commission of the offence in issue. I think both courts below were perfectly in order in coming to the conclusion that the appellant had failed to rebut the presumption of sanity in his favour at all material times.
5. ISSUE 5 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. What becomes manifest from the record in the case in hand is that the learned trial Judge, in my view, followed all the laid down criteria in admitting and evaluating the confession which, having stood up to the tests enunciated in numerous earlier judicial precedents, I see no reason to disturb the finding thereon as well as the conviction of the appellant confirmed by the court below.
6. ISSUE 6 WAS RESOLVED AGAINST THE APPELLANT BUT IN FAVOUR OF THE RESPONDENT.
i. The direct evidence on which there is no contradiction is that the appellant grabbed the deceased while chasing her (P.W.1) and the deceased; that appellant grabbed the deceased by the neck; that she was found murdered thereafter; that the appellant was the last person seen with the deceased before her corpse was discovered in a nearby lonely bush; that P.W.1 identified him immediately she saw him with the villagers after his arrest that he confessed voluntarily orally and in writing to the commission of the crime and that he (appellant) spontaneously exposed and related the roles of the other two suspected persons. The fact that P. W.1 saw only one person just before she escaped does not amount to a contradiction, moreso that the fact revealed by the appellant himself showed unmistakably that there were two others involved in the dastardly act. Indeed, regard must be had to the fact that the events took place in a bushy area which could easily harbour the other miscreants.
I see no irreconcilable evidence creating a doubt as to which or which persons killed the deceased. In effect, there were, in my view, no contradictions or doubt created to necessitate a resolution of same in the appellant’s favour.
⦿ ENDING NOTE BY LEAD JUSTICE – Per
⦿ CONTRIBUTIONS OF OTHER JUSTICES TO ISSUE(S)
⦿ REFERENCED (STATUTE)
Section 150(1) of the Evidence Act, Cap. 112 Laws of the Federation 1990 which provide that – “150(1). When any judicial or official Act is shown to have been done in a manner substantially regular, it is presumed that formal requisites for its validity were complied with.”
Section 155(1) Evidence Act provides that: “All persons shall be competent to testify, unless the court considers that they are prevented from understanding the questions put to them, or from giving rational answers to those questions, by reason of tender years, extreme old age, disease whether of body or mind, or any other cause of the same kind.”
Section 183(1) Evidence Act stipulates that: “In any proceeding for any offence the evidence of any child who is tendered as a witness and does not in the opinion of the court, understand the nature of an oath, may be received, though not given upon oath, if, in the opinion of the court, such child is possessed of sufficient intelligence to justify the reception of the evidence, and understands the duty of speaking the truth.”
⦿ REFERENCED (CASE)
Samuel Erekanure v. The State (1993) 5 NWLR (Pt. 294) 385: wherein in allowing the appellant’s appeal and ordering a retrial, this Court set out the requirements that must be satisfied thus: (a) the accused must be present in court unfettered unless there is a compelling reason to the contrary; (b) the charge must be read over to the accused in the language he understands; (c) the charge should be explained to the accused to the satisfaction of the court; (d) in the course of the explanation technical language must be avoided; (e) after the requirements (a) to (d) above have been satisfied the accused will then be called upon to plead instantly to the charge.
All the above requirements must co-exist and must be satisfied as they are mandatory. For as Olatawura, JSC pungently pointed out in the case (Erekanure (supra) at page 393, paragraphs B-E of the Report: “In this case on appeal and according to the printed record, there is nothing to show that the court fully complied with these requirements. The five requirements must be satisfied. They are mandatory. The best that could be seen to have been done was that the charge was read to the accused, but in what language? If as it has been shown that it was read, was it explained to him? No. There is nothing on record to show also that it was even read by the G registrar or an officer of the court. Where for instance no officer of the Court is capable of interpreting the charge in the language the accused person understands, a sworn interpreter is produced to explain the charge to the accused. As shown on page 26 of the printed record, the appellant spoke Urhobo language. The failure to comply fully or wholly with these requirements renders the trial a nullity.”
⦿ REFERENCED (OTHERS)
Wills Circumstantial Evidence 7th Edition (1936) page 224 which defines circumstantial evidence as follows: “Circumstantial evidence is as good and sometimes better than any other sort of evidence and what is meant by it is that there are number of circumstances which are accepted so as to make a complete unbroken chain of evidence. If that is established to the satisfaction of the jury, they may well and properly act on such circumstantial evidence.”
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
Be it noted that a confessional statement becomes proof of an act when it is true, positive and direct. – Onu JSC. Peter v. State (1997)
A voluntary statement stating or suggesting the inference that he committed the offence for which he is charged is relevant and admissible against an accused, as in the instant case, provided that it was not made as a result of any threat, promise or inducement from a person in authority. – Onu JSC. Peter v. State (1997)
⦿ SIMILAR JUDGEMENTS