Court of Appeal ruling says judge ‘pressured’ accused to plead guilty

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By Latrishka Thomas

A few months ago, a convicted sex offender was sentenced to time served after the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal (ECSC) granted the appeal of the original sentence passed down by Justice Iain Morley in the High Court in 2018.

And the written ruling recently provided by the Court, held that one of the reasons for the decision is that “in the circumstances, the judge’s conduct improperly pressured [the accused] to plead guilty”.

A few years ago, the respondent (convicted sex offender) was charged with the offence of sexual intercourse with a female under 14 years of age.

He was unrepresented throughout most of the legal proceedings and at his arraignment before the High Court judge, he pleaded not guilty to the charge.

On his second appearance before the court, the judge determined of his own motion, without a request from the accused, that a Goodyear Indication (which is supposed to be requested by the defence when they wish to find out the likely maximum sentence should the defendant plead guilty) ought to be given.

The judge then asked the accused what he wanted to do in light of the indication given, and in response the man maintained that he was not guilty.

Nevertheless, the judge continued to engage him on the possibility of entering a guilty plea in light of the Goodyear Indication, at which time the accused queried whether he would be able to walk free if he entered a guilty plea.

The judge answered affirmatively, so the man admitted to the crime and the judge imposed a sentence of two years’ imprisonment, suspended for one year, which meant that he would not have to spend time behind bars unless he committed another offense within a year.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Anthony Armstrong (the appellant) appealed against the sentence, arguing that: “(i) the learned judge did not have jurisdiction to impose a suspended sentence; and alternatively, (ii) the sentence imposed by the judge was manifestly lenient”.

He  also raised issues as to the propriety of the judge’s Goodyear Indication the man’s guilty plea.

The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the appellant, allowing the appeal to the extent that the sentence which was imposed by the learned judge is substituted to the seven days the convict spent on remand; time served.

The Court of Appeal judges held that in order for a plea to have been validly entered, “it must be unequivocal, voluntary, informed and devoid of undue pressure or inducements”, which was not the case in this matter since the judge engaged in negotiations with the respondent on his plea even after he indicated twice that he wished to plead not guilty.

Furthermore, “a judge should only give a Goodyear Indication where it has been sought by the defendant, or where the sentence or type of sentence would be the same whether the case proceeds on a guilty plea or , following a trial, results in a conviction”.

The justices also opined that “a statement that on a plea of guilty a judge would impose one sentence, but that on a conviction following a plea of not guilty a severer sentence would be imposed is one which should never be made”, since it  amounts to undue pressure on the accused and  deprives them of complete freedom of choice.

Thus, “the sentence flowing from the Goodyear Indication and guilty plea, even if permissible by statute, could not, in any event, stand”.

Added to that, there is no local legislation that allows for the imposition of a suspended sentence.

The Court of Appeal concluded that the aforementioned factors proves that the case should have gone to trial.

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