San Ġwann man acquitted of drug trafficking after police officers failed to recognise him in court

The two police officers who arrested the man were unable to recall the circumstances of his arrest during the arraignment, and were not even in a position to identify the objects seized 

A man has been cleared of charges of trafficking cocaine at a nightclub in 2014, after his unassisted admission was ruled inadmissible and the arresting officers failed to recognise him or the drugs in court, in a case which raises more questions than it answers.

32-year-old Sean Gatt from San Ġwann had been charged with trafficking the drug after he was arrested at a New Year’s eve party at Gianpula in Rabat on 1 January 2014.

The drugs found in his possession were deemed by the police not to have been solely for his personal use.

From the evidence exhibited before Magistrate Elaine Mercieca, it emerged that the police had carried several spot checks on partygoers at the popular club that night. During one of them, officers had stopped Gatt and found him to be carrying a rolled up €20 banknote, together with six packets containing a powder suspected to be cocaine. 

But at his arraignment, the two police officers who had carried out the arrest were unable to recall the circumstances of Gatt’s arrest. Neither were they in a position to identify the objects allegedly seized that night. 

Defence lawyer David Gatt also highlighted that the acts of the proceedings show that Gatt had not been assisted by a lawyer during an interrogation in which he had admitted to having bought the drugs and was prepared to share them with his friends. Interrogation in the absence of a lawyer had been a legitimate practice under the domestic law in force at the time, but has since been declared unconstitutional by numerous court judgments.

It was on these grounds that the defence asked the court to expunge the incriminating statement from the acts of the proceedings.

In her decision to acquit the accused, the magistrate said that as the man’s statement was inadmissible, the rest of the prosecution’s evidence, including testimony given by the police officers who had searched him, did not satisfy the legal requirements for the finding of guilt. 

Although expert analysis had confirmed that the substance in the packets which the accused had been carrying was cocaine, the court stressed that the arresting officers had failed to point out the accused in court as the person who had been carrying them, or confirm that the substance tested was the same one seized from the accused’s possession.