Court highlights importance of accuracy on charge sheet in criminal proceedings; the absence of which will free defendant

Unless the evidence produced, and the charges brought correspond to what is on the charge sheet, then the Court is obliged to dismiss the claim

Law report by Malcolm Mifsud
Law report by Malcolm Mifsud

The charge sheet presented by the police in criminal charges, as described in Section 360(2) of the Criminal Code, should contain a clear and accurate representation of the facts of the charge “together with such particulars as to time and place as it may be necessary or practicable to give’’. 

Unless the evidence produced, and the charges brought correspond to what is on the charge sheet, then the Court is obliged to dismiss the claim. This was held by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras in the case The Police vs Mohammad Awal, which was held on the 16th of May 2018.

The Court heard how in a sitting held a few days earlier, where the accused was arraigned before the Court under arrest, the defendant requested that the trial be held in English and consequently the charges were read out and confirmed by the Prosecuting Officer in the English language. The Court commented on how the charges which were written on the charge sheet in Maltese were not identical to the charges on the English version of the charge sheet, with the defendant’s crime and the evidence brought not corresponding to the latter charge sheet.

The defendant was originally charged with possession of cannabis resin with the intent to distribute according to the charge sheet in Maltese, while the charge sheet in English described the charge as possession of cannabis plant with intention to distribute the same. Although the defendant pleaded guilty to the crime, the Court stated that the accused was being charged with an offence which finds no basis in the alleged facts leading to his arrest, and a clear mismatch also was present with regard to the evidence produced. The Court rested on the testimony by expert Godwin Sammut who confirmed that the substance retrieved from the defendant was cannabis resin and not the plant. The law indeed distinguishes between the two, possession of which are two separate offences, and therefore, the defendant was charged with the wrong offence according to the latest translated charge sheet. The Court proceeded to liken this case to a number of others, wherein the inaccuracy of the charges as described on the charge sheet warranted a dismissal of the case.

The Court described the facts of the case in Pulizija vs John Mary Briffa, where in 2005 the appellant had been charged with a crime that according to the charge sheet occurred at 7.30pm. Despite this, the evidence brought pointed to an event that actually occurred at 7.30am. The Court had held that where the charge sheet declares that a crime occurred “ghall-habta ta’’ (around), referring to a crime that happened around the time indicated on the sheet, it must refer to a time very close to the one indicated, and not 12 hours earlier. The Court explained that in such situations where there is clearly a mistake, it is the responsibility of the Prosecution to request an immediate correction. The Court, referring to other judgements, held that unfortunately once a mistake such as this described has occurred, it is too late for the Attorney General to request a correction to the charge sheet at appeal stage.

Lastly, the Court made reference to a judgement by Hon. Judge William Harding, in the case of Pulizija vs Martin Camilleri, on the probatory value of a guilty plea. It was explained that in this case the Court, in consideration of both English and local law, had held that a Court cannot find a defendant guilty, even if they themselves admit guilt, unless they are guilty of the crime they are charged with. They cannot just be found guilty of committing a crime, but rather must be guilty of the crime described by the plaintiff. The Court therefore found the defendant not guilty as it held that it could not be assumed that the defendant was still guilty of cannabis possession if the law distinguished between offences in this regard.

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