Judge slams prosecution as he overturns conviction for aggravated cocaine possession

Accused was not assisted by a lawyer during interrogation, and the absence of fingerprint or DNA analysis meant that the prosecution’s evidence did not prove a direct and concrete link

File photo
File photo

Guilt must be established on the basis of solid evidence and not assumptions, a judge said as he overturned a prison sentence and fine handed to a man convicted of aggravated cocaine possession in 2020.

31-year-old Melvin Debono, nicknamed 'il-Quws', had been jailed for one year and fined €1,000 for possession of cocaine with intent to traffic after police found sachets of cocaine at a residence he shared with others and in a jeep which he had been driving.

No evidence demonstrating that the Pajero jeep in which the drugs had been found belonged to or was habitually used by the defendant, as the prosecution had based its case on the accused man’s statement.

The court observed that the Court of Magistrates had declared his statement inadmissible in view of the fact that he had not been assisted by a lawyer during his interrogation

Debono, an Isla resident, had been arrested in February 2016, after police had found a metal box, containing eight sachets of a white substance, crammed between the seats.

He had been convicted of possession of cocaine and possession of the drug in circumstances denoting it was not intended for his personal use.

The prosecution had exhibited data extracted from three mobile phones retrieved from his shared residence. However, the Court of Appeal noted that Debono’s phone, which he had been carrying at the time of his arrest, was not exhibited.

More drugs had been recovered from the bedroom used by Debono’s girlfriend’s brother and not the accused.

Mr. Justice Aaron Bugeja ruled that the absence of fingerprint or DNA analysis meant that the prosecution’s evidence did not prove a direct and concrete link between Debono and the metal box and the sachets it contained.

Without the incriminating statement, which was however inadmissible as evidence, the judge said that he could not conclude that the Court of Magistrates had evidence of a solid link between the vehicle and Debono, nor indeed between Debono and the drugs.

The judge observed that Debono’s girlfriend and her brother had not been asked to testify before the Court of Magistrates and neither had the police investigation established that the drugs found in the car belonged to, or had been placed there by, Debono.

Besides this, said the judge, the total amount of 2.468g of cocaine, even though divided into eight sachets, was very low and it could not be deduced that it was not solely for Debono’s personal use.

Neither was it proven that the €410 found in his possession had illicit origins.

Courts of Criminal jurisdiction cannot arrive at conclusions on the basis of assumptions, but on the basis of solid evidence, which leads them to certainty of guilt, beyond reasonable doubt, observed the judge, as he upheld Debono’s appeal and acquitted him of all charges.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri were defence counsel.