The Malta Independent 19 October 2018, Friday

Man found guilty by three magistrates has case overturned on appeal

Wednesday, 10 October 2018, 12:00 Last update: about 8 days ago

The Court of Appeal has reversed a decision to convict a man of drug trafficking after a 16-year court battle involving three appeals after an employee finally admitted that the drugs were his.

Carmel Spiteri, a 57-year old shopkeeper and plasterer from St Julian’s was prosecuted for drug trafficking in 2002.

Spiteri’s saga began when police officers acting on a tip-off had stopped Spiteri’s Toyota pickup truck as he was heading towards Birkirkara in the area of Tal-Balal. Inside the truck, the police found a packet containing 34.9 grams of a white powder, later certified cocaine of 30% purity, tucked in the space between the passenger seat and centre console. A tub of bicarbonate of soda was found in the driver’s door pocket. Spiteri was also found to be carrying Lm545 in cash.

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Spiteri had been unable to explain the presence of the drug and other paraphernalia, but had insisted that he was not a drug trafficker.

When testifying in court, the man had explained that although the Toyota was registered in his father’s name, it was used by a number of workers to whom he handed out plastering jobs and who regularly drove the van to ferry materials related to the works.

Despite his denials, the Court of Magistrates had found him guilty in 2009 and condemned him to a 2-year prison sentence and a €880 fine.

Two months later, in July 2009, former Judge Joseph Galea Debono had annulled that judgment since the transcript of the testimony of one of the witnesses had not been inserted in the acts of the case.

The case was sent back to the Magistrates’ Courts, presided over by a different magistrate who confirmed the conviction and the punishment in 2014.

Spiteri had filed a second appeal which had again resulted in the annulment of the judgment delivered by the second Magistrate who had rested upon the conclusions reached by the first Magistrate instead of hearing the case anew.

For a third time the case ended up before the Court of Magistrates, with a third Magistrate earlier this year, once again confirming the man’s conviction, albeit reducing the punishment from a 2-year jail term to a 15-month prison sentence and a €550 fine.

Undaunted, Spiteri had filed a third appeal. Last week, the court delivered judgment, clearing him of all charges, 16 years after he was originally arraigned.

This time the court ruled that the testimony of one witness was “not credible” and amounted to perjury.

When testifying before the Magistrates’ Court in October 2017, a male witness, one of the workers formerly sub-contracted by the accused, had confessed under oath that the drug and associated paraphernalia found in the Toyota 15 years before, belonged to him.

“At the time I was a cocaine user…..Today I am married with kids….I never told him it was mine. It’s not fair that my life is fine today whilst Charlie is going through hell.”

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera noted that in the light of this, there was no evidence linking the accused to the charges aside the fact that the drugs had been found inside his van at the time of the arrest.

“Nor could the court remain passive before such a clear admission by a witness,” remarked  the judge.

The Court of Appeal overturned the conviction since the evidence cast doubt upon the prosecution’s case and authorized him to withdraw the cash which had been confiscated by the court.

In addition to this, the court ordered the Police Commissioner to investigate the witness who had admitted that the drug belonged to him, for perjury.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Rene Darmanin were defence counsel.

 

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