The Guyana Court of Appeal yesterday ordered a retrial—setting aside the conviction and 57-year sentence imposed upon Quaison Jones for the alleged murder of Marlon Greene—holding that trial judge Navindra Singh, failed to sufficiently put Jones’ defence of self defence to the jury.
The High Court jury had heard in 2014 from a witness that the two fish cleaners had an argument at the Meadowbank wharf, during which Greene was stabbed multiple times. He subsequently died from the injuries inflicted.
Delivering the court’s ruling, acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards explained that contrary to the trial judge’s finding, self defence arose on the evidence, and as such the jury ought to have been directed accordingly.
In his appeal to the conviction and sentence, Jones, through his attorneys Ronald Burch-Smith and Keoma Griffith, had argued among other things, that Justice Singh did not properly put his case of self defence to the jury, in accordance with the law.
Noting that the trial judge’s contention that self defence did not arise, Chancellor Cummings-Edwards said that a careful examination of the evidence presented at trial clearly suggests otherwise.
It was against this background she said that it was for the jury to be given the necessary directions by Justice Singh, on how to treat with this defence, and thereafter leave the fact-finding circumstances for their deliberation.
She reminded that as the arbitrators of fact, it was the duty of the jury to determine whether the appellant would have acted in self defence as he claims, and not for the trial judge to decide.
Referencing case law authorities, the chancellor said that once it can be found that the defence “reasonably arises on the evidence, and is not speculative,” then a trial judge must accordingly direct the jury.
She emphasized that a trial judge is not to usurp the fact-finding authority of the jury.
In the circumstances, and in the interest of justice and fairness to Jones, the appellate court ordered that Jones be tried in the very next criminal session which opens next month.
The Court of Appeal noted that while Justice Singh had to some extent put the defence of provocation to the jury, he failed entirely to give directions on self defence—which it said was the thrust of Jones’ case. The appeal was heard by Chancellor Cummings-Edwards along with Justices of Appeal Rishi Persaud and Dawn Gregory.
The appellant had also complained that the sentence imposed by Justice Singh was severe. A retrial having been ordered, however, the court did not in its ruling address the issue of the sentence.
Burch-Smith had previously submitted that the judge’s sentencing system of commencing at a base of 60 years for persons convicted of the capital offence before him is “arbitrary, unfair and unconstitutional.”
A number of other pending appeals challenging the judge’s sentencing structure are currently before the appellate court for consideration.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Diana Kaulesar-O’Brien, who represented the state (respondent) in Jones’ appeal, had previously said that there exists no law which the judge’s method of sentencing offends.
As Justice Singh commonly does for persons convicted of murder, he commences sentence at 60 years, to which he would make additions for aggravating factors, and likewise deductions for mitigating factors.
A number of attorneys have, however, argued that the judge’s formula is without any legal basis while noting that no one knows the reasoning behind the 60-year commencement base.
In the circumstances, they have argued that it is arbitrary and goes against general sentencing principles of other High Court judges.
In June of 2014, Jones was found guilty of the murder of Marlon Greene but had maintained that it was not he who had committed the crime.