Larceny/forgery convictions by jury quashed by Federal Supreme Court

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 Three accused freed in 1961

IN 1961 the Federal Supreme Court sitting in then British Guiana had set aside three larceny/forgery cheque convictions and sentences by a Demerara Assizes jury, because the trial judge had among other things, put forward for the jury’s consideration the last of three statements that was a complete denial of the other two versions.

That ruling resulted in the jury returning a verdict of guilty in relation to a statement that was truly not free and voluntary, the Federal Court had ruled. The accused had successfully appealed.

As a consequence, the appellants, Thomas, Meerabaux and Seals, were freed by the Federal Appellate Court.

The facts of the case disclosed that the appellant Meerabux was indicted for larceny of a cheque book.

The indictment also contained counts against him and the two other appellants for forgery and uttering of two cheques, and obtaining money upon the forged cheques.

He was acquitted on the charges of uttering and obtaining money, but was convicted of larceny and forgery.

The police intercepted a sum of money which he handed to Jean Chan. He was taken to the police station and questioned and he told the police that R. had given him the money for safekeeping. He was detained at the station.

The following morning he gave another statement in which he repeated that R. had given him the money to keep. He was still kept in custody.

On the following morning, he was again questioned. He was then confronted with R, who denied that he had given the appellant money to keep; the appellant was further questioned but made no admission. A recording machine was then brought on and a conversation between the appellant and R., six days previously, was heard when the machine was switched off. The appellant then admitted that the two statements he had given were untrue.

Subsequently, the appellant gave a statement admitting guilt. This was accepted by the trial judge as a free and voluntary statement and It was used by the jury to return a verdict of guilty.

The Appellate Court held that the appellant must have given the third statement to secure his release. “It was not free and voluntary and was therefore inadmissible,” the Federal Court had ruled.

At the hearing of the appeal, Senior Counsel Mr. Fred Wills represented the appellant Meerabux, while Mr. E.A. Romao and D. Singh appeared for the Crown.

Delivering the judgment of the court, Chief Justice Gomes noted that the three appellants were tried on charges arising out of the disappearance of a cheque book containing 187 cheque forms from the Medical Department of the Government of British Guiana on July 25, 1959, and the subsequent presentation to the bank for payment on August 26, 1959, of two cheques which the evidence revealed came from that book.

The appellant Meerabux was convicted on a charge of larceny of the cheque book, a charge preferred against him alone, and on two charges of forgery, and in respect of each of the two cheques presented for payment. He was found not guilty on two charges of uttering the cheques and two charges of obtaining money upon a forged instrument; these charges being in respect of the presentation of the two cheques for payment at the bank.

The other two appellants, the chief justice said, were jointly indicted and tried with Meerabux on all these charges, except the charge of larceny. The appellant Thomas was found not guilty of the two charges of forgery but guilty on the charge of uttering and of obtaining money. The appellant Seales was found guilty of all six charges brought against him.

According to the chief justice, all these appellants have appealed against their convictions and sentences on several grounds, some of which were not pursued before the court.

The evidence established that the cheque book was kept in the custody of one Benjamin, a clerk in the Medical Department, who in 1959 was a cashier in the Mosquito Control Section of the department. He was issued with the cheque book in connection with his duties as a cashier and kept it in a safe.

Benjamin stated in evidence that, on the morning of July 25 on arrival at work, he opened his safe, checked the contents and saw that the cheque book was there. He then locked his safe again.

He said that at about 08:30hrs, the appellant Meerabux came to him and told him that he had heard Benjamin was to be transferred and Meerabux named as his successor. Meerabux asked Benjamin to show him his work.

In the course of doing this, Benjamin opened the safe in the presence of the appellant and the two checked the contents.

At one stage, Benjamin left the appellant alone at the safe for a short period.

While Benjamin was showing the appellant other aspects of his work, according to Benjamin, the appellant told him not to look around as he (the appellant) did not want others to know that he the appellant was being taught.

The facts leading to the taking of the statements are as follows. On the afternoon of December 8, 1959, the police intercepted a sum of $500 which the appellant handed to one Jean Chan. He was then invited or taken to the police station where he was questioned about the money and at about 19:00hrs, he gave a statement to account for the possession of the money, stating that it had been given to him by one Rodrigues for safekeeping. He was detained at the station and on the evening of the following day, December 9, he gave a further statement along similar lines.

On the following evening, he was questioned by the Assistant Commissioner of Police Mr. Rose, who had reason to believe that what the appellant had said in the two statements was untruthful. Mr. Rose asked the appellant if he was quite certain that the two statements concerned the truth. Upon the appellant replying that they did, Mr. Rose caused the man Rodrigues to be brought into their presence. Rodrigues, on arrival, denied the claim by the appellant.
Following further information from a recording machine previously made, the appellant made a third statement implicating himself, the chief justice
had said.

He added, “In these circumstances, we fail to see how it can be maintained that the statement was admissible as a free and voluntary statement. In our view, it was not.

“Agreeing as we do with the submission of counsel for the appellant in regard to the conclusion or inference to be made from the jury’s verdict, there only remains for consideration the question whether there is sufficient evidence to support the conviction for larceny.

“We have carefully examined the remainder of the evidence that was
adduced on the count of larceny of the cheque book and we have also
considered the facts and circumstances which were advanced in argument
by counsel for the Crown in support of the conviction, and we have come to
the conclusion that while they amount to a strong suspicion that the
appellant was the thief, the facts proved do not in our view  establish that
convincing degree of proof which is necessary for a conviction, and, of
course, a person cannot be convicted on suspicion alone.

“The conviction for larceny must, therefore, be quashed and, as the reasons
which we have given above apply equally to the charges for forgery, the
conviction for forgery must also be set aside. Appeal allowed, “ the Federal Supreme Court had ruled.