CCJ dismisses appeal against murder conviction but calls for improved criminal investigations

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CCJ dismisses appeal against murder conviction but calls for improved criminal investigations

(PRESS RELEASE) – In a judgment released today, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) dismissed the appeal against the murder conviction in the matter of Carlton Hall v The Queen [2020] CCJ 1 (AJ) and affirmed the order of the Barbados Court of Appeal that the appellant be brought to the Trial Court for resentencing.

On 2 March 2016, the appellant was convicted of the murder of Adrian Wilkinson and, as mandated by law, was sentenced to death. He appealed both his conviction and sentence. However, the appeal against the sentence became unnecessary after the CCJ ruled in the matters of Nervais v The Queen and Severin v The Queen [2018] CCJ 19 (AJ) that the mandatory death sentence for murder was unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal on 23 January 2019 and ordered that he be brought before the Trial Court for resentencing.

The appellant appealed to the CCJ arguing that the identification evidence against him was so weak and unreliable that the Trial Judge should not have allowed the case to go to the jury and that, having done so, she was mistaken in directing that there were special circumstances to support the identification. The appellant also claimed, for the first time, that his counsel had failed to raise the issue of his good character and the jury may not have convicted him if his counsel had done so.

The Court was split 3-2 over its decision. The majority (Justices Wit, Anderson and Rajnauth-Lee) held that the fact that the eyewitness saw the appellant two times on the evening of the murder, prior to seeing him shoot the deceased, amounted to special circumstances within the meaning of the Barbados Evidence Act, and that the Trial Judge was, therefore, right to allow the case to go to the jury. The majority also decided that, although the appellant was entitled to a good character direction as he had no prior convictions for violent offences, it was clear that the jury believed the eyewitness and did not believe the appellant. So that even if the good character direction was given, it would not have made a difference to the jury’s verdict.

The minority (Justices Barrow and Jamadar) found that the identification evidence was not supported, either by special circumstances or otherwise, and that the Trial Judge should have accepted the “No Case Submission” by Defence Counsel. Alternatively, the minority felt that, had the good character direction been given, it might have swayed the jury given that the evidence against the appellant was so weak.

The Court dismissed the appeal and affirmed the sentence. The Court also called for more searching investigations and prosecutions, noting that criminal cases, and especially capital cases, required and deserved thorough investigation and presentation of all relevant evidence. The full judgment of the Court and a judgment summary are available on the Court’s website at www.ccj.org.

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