Contradictions in evidence must be resolved in favour of accused

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Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi

FRIDAY CHRISTOPHER v. THE STATE
In the Court of Appeal
HOLDEN AT ABUJA
Friday, May 15, 2015
Suit number: CA/AK/45C/2013
Between
FRIDAY CHRISTOPHER…… Appelant
And
THE STATE………………….. Respondent
SONTOYE DENTON-WEST JCA, MOHAMMED AMBI-USI DANJUMA, JCA, JAMES SHEHU ABIRIYI (JCA) JUSTICE, COURT OF APPEAL OF NIGERIA (Delivered By CLARA BATA OGUNBIYI, JSC).

This is an appeal against the judgment of the Ondo State High Court, Akure Judicial Division, delivered on 7th March, 2011.

The Appellant was charged with the offence of murder contrary to the Section 319 of the Criminal Code Cap 30 Vol. 11 Laws of Ondo State 1978.

FACTS:
The prosecution witnesses (PW1 and 2) were told that the Appellant was related to the murder of one John also called Teacher. PW2 and others went and took the said John to the State Specialist Hospital Akure where the Doctor confirmed him dead.

The Appellant in a statement made at the Police Station, Idanre said it was one Olu that killed the late John. In a later statement made at state C.I.D. Police Headquarters admitted after a trial within trial the Appellant admitted the killing. In court, the Appellant maintained the story in the first statement that it was Olu that stabbed Teacher.

After hearing evidence and considering the addresses of learned counsel for both parties, the lower court in a considered judgment found the Appellant guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter, convicted and sentenced him to a prison term of ten (10) years.

ISSUE:
“Whether the Trial Judge was right to have relied on Exhibit B, that is, the Confessional Statement of the Appellant to ground a conviction of Manslaughter against the Appellant” Under our Constitution an accused person is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. The onus of proof is on the prosecution and does not shift. It is for the prosecution to establish the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt. Even where an accused person admitted to the police the commission of the offence in his statement, the prosecution is not relieved of the burden.

However proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond the shadow of doubt. See Igabele v. State (2006) 6 NWLR (Pt. 975) 100.

Manslaughter for which the Appellant was convicted is defined in Section 317 of the Criminal Code as follows:
“A person who unlawfully kills another in such circumstances as not to constitute murder is guilty of manslaughter.”

Section 308 of the Criminal Code defines “killing” as follows: “Except as hereinafter set forth, any person who causes the death of another, directly or indirectly, by any means whatsoever is deemed to have killed that other person.”

It is clear from the evidence before the court that the death of one John alias Teacher was established. See Exhibit 1D4, a “Report of Medical Practitioner” on the deceased John alias Teacher who died as a result of a stab wound on the neck.

Did the appellant kill the deceased? I agree entirely with learned counsel for the Appellant that the evidence of PW1 and PW2, the only prosecution witnesses was hearsay. They were told that the Appellant was related to the death of the deceased. In the absence of any other evidence it is not surprising that it was to Exhibit B that the Prosecution and the court relied on solely in proof of the killing by the Appellant. As far as the prosecution was concerned and the court accepted Exhibit B as such, it was a confessional statement.

A confession is an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime stating or suggesting by inference that he committed that crime. See Gira v. State (1996) 4 NWLR (Pt. 443) 375.

There is no evidence stronger than a person’s own admission or confession.Although an accused person can be convicted solely on his confessional statement it is desirable to have some evidence outside the confession which would make it probable that the confession was true. See Dibie v. State (2007) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1038) 30.
A free and voluntary confession which is direct and positive and properly proved is sufficient to sustain a conviction without corroborative evidence so long as the court is satisfied with its truth. See: NWAEZE v. STATE (1996) 2 NWLR (Pt. 428) 1.

Learned counsel for the Appellant submitted that the lower court did not make a finding as to whether or not the statement of the Appellant Exhibit B was voluntarily made.

When the statement was being tendered in evidence the Appellant’s counsel objected because the Appellant said he could not read or write in English and that he was “tortured and forced”. In his evidence at the trial within trial the Appellant stated that he had earlier made a statement at the Olofin police station, Idanre.

He further stated thus: “When I explained to them at SIB they said I was lying. I was beaten. I denied that I fought with Teacher. I was brought out of the cell at 2a.m. and beaten; they threatened to kill me. I was asked to endorse a statement which was already written. I cannot read or write. A statement was written when I got to the station and yet another was written which I was forced to sign.”

It is clear from the foregoing that the Appellant was saying that he did not make the statement but that he was forced to sign. In other words he denied ever making the statement. In the circumstances, the statement was admissible in evidence. If it was admitted, the lower court would at the end determine if the appellant made it and if it so holds to assess the probative value of the evidence therein.

If however, the Appellant had admitted making the statement but went further to allege that he made it under duress or any form of inducement or promise, the statement would have been inadmissible, unless a trial within trial was conducted to test the voluntariness or otherwise of the statement and not its truthfulness. See Saidu v. State (1982) 4 SC 41.

In my view Exhibit B was admissible because the Appellant denied making it. It was not admissible for the reasons stated by the lower court in its ruling one of which is contained at page 20 of the record of appeal being the truthfulness of the statement. This is what the lower court stated: “I am satisfied with the truth of the statement sought to be tendered in evidence and I hereby admit it as Exhibit B.”

to be concluded

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