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English version of a translated confessional statement must not be signed by an accused person to be valid

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STATE v. ALI SA’IDU (2019) LPELR-47397 (SC)
In the Supreme Court of Nigeria
ON FRIDAY, 12TH APRIL, 2019

Suit No: SC.492/2016

Before Their Lordships:
WALTER SAMUEL NKANU ONNOGHEN, JSC
MUSA DATTIJO MUHAMMAD, JSC
KUMAI BAYANG AKA’AHS, JSC
JOHN INYANG OKORO, JSC
UWANIMUSA ABBA AJI, JSC

Between
THE STATE                                                     -Appellant(s)

And

ALI SA’IDU                                                        -Respondent(s)

LEAD JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY JOHN INYANG OKORO, J.S.C.

FACTS OF THE CASE
This appeal is against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division delivered on 19th February, 2016 wherein the Court set aside the conviction and sentence of the Respondent (Ali Sa’idu) to death for armed robbery.
  
The facts of the case was that on the 22nd of February, 2001, at about 2:00 am, some group of people went to the house of Alhaji Umaru Masanawa, the village head of Sabuwar Kasa village in Kafur Local Government Area of Katsina State, and demanded him to give them money and upon saying that he had no money, they beat him with sticks and then shot him with a gun. He later became unconscious and subsequently died from the gunshot wounds. One Idris Abdullahi suggested sixteen names of notorious armed robbers in the area to the police out of which eight, including Ali Sa’idu were arrested in connection with the robbery. Six out of the eight arrested persons were charged with armed robbery under Section 1(2) (b) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act, Cap 398 LFN 1990, Ali Sa’idu being the 4th accused person.
  
At the trial, the prosecution (the State) witnesses gave evidence and tendered exhibits. Ali Sa’idu (as 4th accused) testified in his defence and called no witness. At the end of the trial, the learned trial Judge found Ali Sa’idu guilty, convicted and sentenced him to death on 27th July, 2012.

  
Dissatisfied with the judgment of the trial Court, Ali Sa’idu appealed to the Court of Appeal sitting at Kaduna. The Court of Appeal after hearing the appeal, allowed the appeal, discharged and acquitted him. Dissatisfied with the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the State appealed to the Supreme Court.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The Court determined the appeal on the following issues: 1. Whether there are pieces of evidence outside the retracted Confessional Statement of the Respondent (Exhibit 8A) warranting him to be convicted solely on it even though he did not sign Exhibit “8B” (Translation of Exhibit “8A”) and whether there are identified lapses in the evidence of the prosecution which fail to link the Appellant to the crime, creating a doubt in the mind of the court.
  
2. Whether the lower court erred in law when it held that where an accused person is not arrested at the scene of crime, denies the commission of the offence or retracts his confessional statement and there is no direct evidence of an eye witness, the prosecution must produce cogent compelling and irresistible circumstantial evidence to secure a conviction.

APPELLANT’S COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS
On issue one the Appellant submitted that Ali Sa’idu failed to explain the reason for the retraction of the confessional statement which he made to the police. That Ali Sa’idu, having confessed to the crime, there was nothing to create any doubt in the mind of the Court. He concluded that the decision of the Court of Appeal was based on findings that are perverse, not supported by evidence and that the decision was reached as a result of a wrong approach to a wrong application of principle of substantive law or procedure.
  
On issue two, the Appellant submitted that it was wrong for the lower Court to hold that “The law is that where an accused person who is not arrested at the scene of crime denies the commission of the offence or retracts his confessional statement and there is no direct evidence of an eye witness, the prosecution must produce cogent, compelling and irresistible circumstantial evidence; to secure a conviction” whereas the Supreme Court has held severally that the Court can convict on the confessional statement alone.

RESPONDENT’S COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS
On issue one, the Respondent submitted that Exhibit 8B can only bind the respondent if he had signed same. Also that apart from the retracted confessional statement, it cannot be objectively said from the totality of evidence before the Court that the facts stated therein are true, that he had the opportunity to commit the offence or that they are consistent with other facts established before the Court.
  
He urged the Supreme Court to uphold the decision of the Court of Appeal that identified lapses in the evidence of the prosecution which failed to link the Respondent to the crime and the absence of the Respondent’s signature or thumb print on Exhibit 8B.

RESOLUTION OF ISSUES
In resolving issue one, the Court held that there is no doubt that Exhibit 8A, the main statement made in Hausa by the Respondent was actually thumb printed by him. However, the grouse of the Respondent is that the translated version was not signed by the Respondent though signed by the translator.
  
The Court agreed with the Appellant that the instant case is distinguishable from Ogudo v The State (2011) 18 NWLR (pt 1278) 1 because in Ogudo’s case, it was the statement recorded in the language understood by the accused/Respondent (English language) that was unsigned by the Respondent and not the translated version which requires the signature of the translator and not that of the accused person. The Respondent’s confessional statement, though retracted, was duly signed by him as made in Hausa which he understands. The translated version, even if it was read over to him in English language would not have made any meaning to him as he would not have understood same.

The Court held that as far as the translator had signed the said translated version, it does not make any difference that the accused did not sign it and that in any case, it has not been alleged that the content of Exhibit 8B are different from that in Exhibit 8A. The Court’s opinion was that it is only the signature of the translator that is relevant and not that of the accused in a translated version of the statement. Conclusively it was held that, the statement of the Respondent in Exhibit 8A was duly thumb printed by him and was thus duly authenticated. The translated version was also duly signed by the translator. Thus, the confessional statement of the Respondent was duly signed and not worthless as held by the Court of Appeal. This issue was resolved in the Appellant’s favor.
  
In resolving the second issue, the Court held that confession alone even without corroboration can support a conviction so long as the Court is satisfied of its truth. Also that even where an accused person resiles or retracts from his confessional statement, the retraction notwithstanding, the confessional statement must be considered along with other evidence by the Court which will decide whether or not the accused did make the statement.

  
The Court aligned with the Appellant that the statement by the Court of Appeal that where an accused person was not arrested at the scene and who denies committing the offence and retracts from his confessional statement, the prosecution must lead cogent and compelling circumstantial evidence to prove the charge without also taking cognizance of the possibility of the accused making a confessional statement, appears misleading even though the Court did not say it was the only method to prove the guilt of the accused person. This issue was also resolved in favor of the Appellant.

HELD
The Supreme Court allowed the appeal by setting aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna delivered on 19th February, 2016 and in its stead restored the judgment of the Katsina State High Court delivered on 27 April, 2012 which convicted and sentenced the Respondent to death.

Appearances:
ABU UMAR, SSC KATSINA STATE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE WITH HIM, ABUBAKAR IDRIS S.C. -For Appellant(s)
E.I. ESENE WITH HIM, JOHNSON AHURUONYE -For Respondent(s)
Compiled by LawPavilion


In this article:
Idris Abdullahi
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