➥ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Adeniji V. The State (2001) – SC
by “PipAr” Branham-Paul C. Chima, SAL.
Supreme Court – SC. 210/1999
➥ JUDGEMENT DELIVERED ON:
Friday, May 25, 2001
➥ AREA(S) OF LAW
➥ PRINCIPLES OF LAW
⦿ PRINCIPLE ON THE VALID ARRAIGNMENT OF AN ACCUSED PERSON
By the combined effect of these provisions a valid arraignment of an accused person must satisfy the following requirements: 1. The accused shall be placed before the court unfettered unless the court shall see cause to the contrary or otherwise order. 2. The charge or information shall be read over and explained to him in the language he understands to the satisfaction of the court by the Registrar or other officer. 3. He shall then be called upon to plead instantly thereto. This court has held in a number of cases that these requirements must be satisfied. Nothing should be left to speculation. The records of the trial must show that these conditions are complied with. This is so because the object of the Constitution is to safeguard the interest and fair trial of those arraigned before the court. See Kajubo v. State (supra); Erekanure v. State (supra). It must however be said that each case must be treated on its peculiar facts. The mode of compliance will differ from case to case. Let me explain. It is not every requirement that must appear on record. For example the requirement that the Judge should be satisfied that the charge has been read and explained to the accused need not appear on the record. It is however good practice to so indicate. There is nothing in section 215 of the CPL which says that the trial Judge must put on record his satisfaction. No. It is a matter of common sense really. For once the record of the court shows that the charge has been read over and explained to the accused, and the accused pleaded to it before the case proceeded to trial, it is to be presumed that everything was regularly done; that the Judge was satisfied. Secondly, the requirement that the charge must be read and explained to the accused in the language he understands, in my opinion, presupposes that the accused does not understand English which is the language of the court. If he does not, the court has a duty to put on record the language spoken by the accused. However, if the accused understands English, then it is not necessary to record this fact. See Idemudia v. State (supra). In that case this court observed as follows: “The language of the court is English. A vast majority of the people in this country are not literate in the English language. I believe and indeed I am convinced that the person the lawmaker had in mind to protect by these provisions was the illiterate Nigerian. If this were not so the phrase “in the language he understands” would become meaningless. This phrase surely presupposes that the accused person does not understand the language of the court which is English.” — Katsina-Alu, JSC.
⦿ WHERE NO DIRECT EVIDENCE, COURT WILL USE CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
It is trite law that where, as in the present case, no direct evidence of an eyewitness to the commission of an offence is available, the court may infer from the facts proved the existence of other facts which logically and conclusively establish the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt. See Adepetu v. The State (1998) 9 NWLR (Pt.565) 185. Accordingly, when strong circumstantial evidence is led against an accused person 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 the jury that on no rational hypothesis other than the inference can the facts be accounted for. See Uwe Idighi Esai and others v. The State (1976) 11 SC 39; Peter Nwachukwu Eze v. The State (1976) 1 SC 125 etc. The onus is on the accused person to rebut the guilt based on circumstantial evidence but this is merely on the basis of preponderance of probabilities. See Michael Peter v. The State (1997) 12 NWLR (Pt.531) 1. — Iguh, JSC.
➥ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
⦿ FOR THE APPELLANT
Chief A. A. Aribisala.
⦿ FOR THE RESPONDENT
Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Attorney-General, Lagos State.
➥ CASE FACT/HISTORY
The undisputed facts of this case are that the deceased, Regina Alozie went to the home of the appellant on 20/5/84. They both left in the deceased’s car for Otta that morning. That was the last time the deceased was seen alive.
At the Lagos High Court the appellant Lateef Adeniji was charged with the murder of one Regina Alozie contrary to section 319(1) of the Criminal Code. The case was heard by Oshodi J. who on 28th February, 1986 in a reserved judgment found the appellant guilty of murder and sentenced him to death accordingly. His appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed on 28 October, 1999. He has further appealed to this court.
➥ ISSUE(S) & RESOLUTION(S)
I. Whether the plea was properly taken and recorded?
RULING: IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR.
A. THAT THERE WAS A VALID ARRAIGNMENT OF THE APPELLANT
“At page 34 of the record of the trial court, the learned trial Judge recorded the following: “Court: Registrar please read and explain the charge to the accused and then take his plea. Plea: Accused pleads not guilty to the charge.” It has been contended for the appellant that there is nothing in the record of the trial court to show that: 1. The charge or information was read over and explained to the accused to the satisfaction of the court. 2. The charge was read to the appellant by the Registrar or other officer of the court. 3. The charge was read over and explained to the appellant in the language that he understands; or 4. The charge was read in detail and the nature of the offence was sufficiently explained to the appellant. This complaint, in my judgment, has no foundation whatsoever. The record shows that the court ordered that the charge be read and explained to the accused in the language he understands. It is presumed that that was done. The record bears nothing to the contrary. It will be clearly seen that the person the court ordered to read the charge to the appellant was the Registrar. Yet the appellant says that this is not apparent on the record. See page 34 of the trial court’s record which I have earlier on reproduced. Thirdly, the appellant understands English. This is evident in the record. He made his plea and also gave his evidence in English. The omission by the learned trial Judge to state that he was satisfied that the appellant understood the charge is of no moment. Where the accused understands the language of the court – English, it becomes unnecessary to record that fact. It is however good practice to ask the accused the question whether he understood the charge as read and explained and to record his answer. But the omission to do so would not constitute non-compliance with the constitutional and procedural requirements. I am therefore in agreement with the respondent that the appellant was properly arraigned.”
Legislation: section 215 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Lagos State and Section 33(6)(a) of the 1979 Constitution.
II. Whether the High Court of Lagos State had jurisdiction to try the offence?
RULING: IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR.
A. THE AVAILABLE EVIDENCE SHOWS THE DECEASED DIED IN LAGOS STATE
“It is not very clear where exactly the offence was committed. Whereas the prosecution says that the offence was committed in Mushin in Lagos State the appellant says that the deceased died at Otta in Ogun State. It was in evidence that the appellant took the deceased to his father at Eredo. She laid unconscious in the car. The father of the appellant told him to take the woman away.”
“See the evidence of P.W. 6 Tajudeen Akinyombo the appellant’s uncle. In his evidence in chief, he testified thus: “I went to his father at Eredo. On getting to Eredo I narrated the story to him and the father told him that the accused carried the woman to him on 20/5/84 and she was unconscious as she laid down in the car. The father further said that the accused should carry the woman away ” This evidence was not challenged. In fact this witness was not cross-examined. It adds weight to the contention of the respondent that the deceased could have died before they got to Ogun State.”
B. THE APPELLANT CHOSE NOT TO TESTIFY AS TO WHERE THE DECEASED DIED
“So where exactly did the deceased die? It is only the appellant who could have said exactly when and where the deceased had died. He chose not to testify and the court was left with no option but to draw conclusions from the available evidence before it. This issue too fails and is resolved against the appellant.”
III. Whether the circumstantial evidence sustained by the Court of Appeal was conclusive, compelling or irresistible?
RULING: IN RESPONDENT’S FAVOUR.
A. THAT THE STORY BY THE APPELLANT IS FALSE
“The appellant, in his statement said that he went with the deceased to the clinic of a medical doctor at Alimosho in Agege area of Lagos State. The doctor was not at his clinic. The deceased and the appellant drove back. The deceased dropped him off at Ikeja bus stop. The deceased, appellant said, headed for Maroko, Lagos. However, the facts that emerged at the trial showed that the story by the appellant was false. On 21/5/84, the appellant drove the vehicle of the deceased to the house of his uncle the P.W.6 at Mushin. He represented to PW6 that he bought the vehicle at Apapa. For lack of adequate security at his home he asked to keep the vehicle with P.W.6 who demanded to see the receipt for the sale of the car. The appellant had none. P.W.6 advised him to obtain the receipt. The applicant however left the car at the workshop of P.W.6 until 25/5/84 when P.W.6 reported the matter at Mushin Police station. This enabled the Police to link the appellant with the car of the deceased. In July, 1984 however, the appellant took the P.W.9, a policeman and three relatives of the deceased to a place at Sango Otta where he showed them the remains of the deceased.”
B. THE FACTS WHICH WERE PROVED WERE COMPELLING, COGENT, AND COMPLETE
“The facts which were proved called for an explanation from the appellant. He was last seen with the deceased. After, two months he took the police and the relatives of the deceased to a place he dumped her remains. It is only a matter of common sense that on the state of the facts and circumstances, the appellant should offer some explanation as to how Regina died. Regrettably beyond the admittedly untrue statements, none was forthcoming. In the absence of any satisfactory explanation, the court will be justified in inferring the existence of the requisite guilty intent. Although there was no direct evidence, the circumstantial evidence presented leads to only one conclusion that the appellant killed the deceased. It proved beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the appellant.”
C. APPELLANT DID NOT TESTIFY
“Circumstances of this case clearly show that the appellant knew all along what had happened to the deceased. He did not testify at the trial. He offered no explanation. The trial court in the circumstances was justified in inferring the existence of a guilty intent, and in his finding that the appellant killed the deceased. The court below was also justified in affirming the guilt of the appellant.”
“In the result this appeal fails. I dismiss it and affirm the conviction and sentence of the appellant.”
➥ MISCELLANEOUS POINTS
➥ REFERENCED (CASE)
⦿ FACTS ACCEPTED AND NOT CONTROVERTED WILL LEAD TO CONVICTION
In Peter Igho v. The State (1978) 3 SC 87 the facts as set out in the judgment were that the deceased, lfoto Oboluke, left her house on Sunday 20th August, 1972 for a religious service but never returned alive. When the mother did not see her return in the evening she made a report and a search party was organised by the villagers. Those who saw her last said she was riding at the back of a bicycle. The corpse of the deceased was later found that night. This Court per Eso JSC upholding the verdict of the trial court on the conviction of the appellant said: “The only irresistible inference from the circumstances presented by the evidence in this case is that the appellant killed the deceased. We can find no other reasonable inference from the circumstances of the case. The facts which were accepted by the learned trial Judge amply supported by the evidence before him, called for an explanation and beyond the untrue denials of the appellant (as found by the learned trial Judge) none was forthcoming. See R. v. Mary Ann Nash (1911) 6 C.A.R. 225 at page 228. Though this constitutes circumstantial evidence, it is proof beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the appellant.”
➥ REFERENCED (OTHERS)