Full Court overturns conviction of man jailed over cocaine in rum

Dwayne King, who had been convicted and sentenced to 60 months in jail on a charge of trafficking cocaine in rum, yesterday walked out the High Court in Georgetown a free man after his conviction was overturned.

On August 31st, 2016, Magistrate Judy Latchman had sentenced King to 60 months in jail after finding him guilty of trafficking 2.954 kilogrammes of cocaine, which it was claimed he hid in bottles of rum he had given to his then UK-based girlfriend to take out of the country.

It was the state’s case that King had placed the cocaine in two bottles of rum, which he had previously purchased from the DSL Cash and Carry supermarket at Ruimveldt.

According to police, he thereafter gave the rum to girlfriend Vanessa Moore, who was travelling to England, to deliver to a friend.

An outgoing passenger on November 3rd, 2015, Moore, in whose suitcases the cocaine-laced spirits were found at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, was initially arrested and charged with the offence.

The charge against her was, however, later withdrawn after she told by investigators that it was King who had given her the liquor and requested that it be delivered to his friend on her return to England.

It was after Moore related this story to the police that King was charged, and she was used as a witness for the state against him.

Dwayne King

After his conviction, King appealed to the Full Court of the High Court. His application was heard by Justices Jo-Ann Barlow and Sandil Kissoon.

King’s application before the High Court was made by attorney Lyndon Amsterdam, while the state’s case was presented by Prosecutor Natasha Backer.

Delivering the ruling of the court, Justice Barlow, who noted that the case was built on circumstantial evidence, highlighted the high standards which ought to be attached to such evidence.

The court, however, observed that the magistrate had speculated on aspects of the evidence, a practice the law shuns, as opposed to drawing inferences, which it allows.

The court observed that Moore, who was in prison at the time, was the only person who linked the appellant to the rum and noted that the magistrate therefore needed to be very careful in the manner in which she examined Moore’s evidence as she would have had “an interest in the matter and an axe to grind.”

The court found further glaring deficiencies in the evidence related by Moore, who claimed that on the night before she travelled, she had provided King with tape which he later used to strap the two bottles of rum.

The court noted, however, that after the discovery was made by police, the tape was missing and that there had been no account as to when, or who removed that tape.  This issue, the judge highlighted, raised the possibility that after the appellant taped the rum, either Moore or someone else could have taken the tape off and possibly inserted the cocaine into the rum.

Also examined by the court was Moore’s story that she had a bottle of high wine. The judge pointed out, however, that the photos tendered into evidence showed no high wine nor was there any explanation as to whether the contents of that bottle had been tested.

The court noted that this raised the possibility that that bottle could also have contained cocaine which has the potential of weakening any circumstantial evidence against King.

Also considered by the judges was the fact that it was Moore who had the cocaine-laced liquor, even at times when King was absent, and that this was not addressed in detail by the magistrate.

The court noted that there existed no conclusive evidence against King that he had placed anything in the bottles, which were found to be tampered with, or that he was the last person to have dealt with the bottles before the discovery by the investigators that it contained cocaine.

These issues, the judge noted, could not just simply be “glossed over.”

Noting that King had given sworn evidence which Magistrate Latchman said she disbelieved, the High Court pointed out that there was no evidential reference as to why the magistrate did not believe him, but yet elevated  Moore’s evidence above his.

The judge emphasised that whenever a witnesses’ evidence is being disbelieved, it must not be on grounds of speculation, while noting that no reasons were shown by the magistrate as to why she rejected King’s evidence and accepted Moore’s.

In the circumstances, the court vacated the conviction, thereby setting the appellant free.

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