From the Courts
February 26, 2021
Labourer found not guilty of escaping police custody

A Questelles labourer who escaped from a police station while he was being detained has been acquitted of a charge of escaping unlawful custody.

This is a result of uncertainty surrounding how long it had been since the defendant, Jovarni Alexander, had been arrested by the police at the time he fled, and whether he had been charged at the time. Therefore, it was uncertain whether the police themselves were in compliance with the laws on detention of citizens.

Alexander, represented by counsel Jomo Thomas, went through a trial at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court on February 15, during which he opted not to give a testimony on the matter.

On the prosecution’s side, the officers contended that on September 11, 2018, at the Questelles Police Station, Alexander was in police custody concerning an alleged incident of wounding with intent.

He asked to use the washroom, and a female officer allowed him to do so. Five minutes later, she heard no sounds coming from the washroom and called the detainees name. She was met with no response. Entering the lavatory, she discovered Alexander gone, and a small window open.

This officer “could not recall when the defendant was detained,” Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett revised while delivering his decision this Monday, February 22, or “how long he was in the police custody.”

“…She does not know if he was ever charged,” as another officer, now deceased, was handling the wounding matter, not her.

The investigating officer too could not say whether the defendant was charged when he escaped.

Therefore, in our report on the trial published on February 19, where it says that Alexander had not been charged at the time of his escape, this is erroneous; it is in fact uncertain whether he was.

During the trial, the defense counsel questioned the officers on the law as it relates to the detaining of citizens.

Thomas had posited that once Alexander was held beyond 24 hours without charging him, his detention was unlawful.

The prosecution in Alexander’s case had contended that an individual could be kept by the police for 48 hours, released or charged in 24 hours.

“The prosecutor did not say whether he (Alexander) was charged and she could not have done that because neither” of the officers gave that testimony.

In coming to his decision on whether Alexander could be guilty of escaping lawful custody, the magistrate examined section 35 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which outlines the procedure for detaining individuals.

Subsection one of this section stated that the police should inquire into the case, and when the inquiry is complete, if there is not sufficient evidence to believe that the person has committed an offence he/she shall be released forthwith.

If after inquiring there is reason to believe the person has committed an offence, “but the offence does not appear to be of a serious nature, such police officer may and shall if it does not appear practicable to bring such person before the court within 24 hours after he was taken in to custody, release the person on him executing a bond with or without surety to appear before the magistrate court at a time place named in the bond.”

Subsection three says “if on a person being taken into custody it appears to the police officer that the inquiry into the case cannot be completed forthwith he may release the person on him executing a bond, with or without surety to appear…”
Burnett stated, “it is clear to me that there is a distinction between the period to charge is 24 hours and what we do if the police cannot meet that requirement.”

The evidence showed that at the time the defendant was in custody he may not have been charged, and therefore the police at the station may have been in breach of section 35.

“I wish to add that even during cross examination I detected a level of uncertainty by the officers on section 35 of the criminal procedure code,” the magistrate added.

“Having held that at the time of the incident, that the police were not complying with section 35, it stands to reason that the court must agree with the submission of defence counsel. I therefore hold that this defendant is not guilty of the charge,” the magistrate held.