Man who found bag of ecstasy pills at party cleared of drug charges

After spending a day under arrest and with no prospect of release in sight and being forbidden from contacting his employer, the man had released a statement admitting guilt without speaking to a lawyer

A man who picked up a bag he had just stepped on, only to be arrested because the bag contained ecstasy pills, has been cleared of aggravated drug charges, after the court noted that he had not been assisted by a lawyer during his interrogation.

47-year-old Eugenio Sultana had been arrested in September 2009 during at a party at MFCC, when two police officers noted him standing in a space between tents, facing a supporting beam and looking at something in his hands.

Noticing a number of pills in the palm of his hand, the plainclothed officers had grabbed the accused by the shoulder. At that point security staff had intervened, thinking it was an assault and in the ensuring confusion, Sultana had thrown the pills away before he was arrested. Police however were able to recover some of the pills, which were found to be ecstasy.

The accused had testified during the proceedings, explaining that he had picked up the bag of pills after he stepping on it on his way in. At first he had thought it was a mobile phone, he said, but after feeling it, thought it could be a wallet. He had moved away from the crowd to open the bag and saw a number of pills. It was at that moment that he had been arrested, claimed Sultana.

The police had refused to believe Sultana's protestations of innocence and arrested him. After spending a day under arrest and with no prospect of release in sight, the man had requested permission to call his employer and take the next day as leave, but was not allowed to. Some time after that, Sultana had released a statement admitting guilt, before contacting his lawyer.

Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras held that this statement was not admissible as evidence as he had not been assisted by a lawyer at the time, noting that case-law, both European and local, was consistent on this matter. The right to legal assistance during interrogation was introduced in 2010.

Although there was no doubt that the accused had been in material possession of the pills at the time of his arrest, the court felt that his explanation as to how they had come into his possession was truthful. It also felt that his reaction was consistent with that of a person who had been looking at an object which he had just picked up, perhaps also recognising the objects to be ecstasy pills, and then panicking after being surprised by the police.

The court declared Sultana to be innocent of all charges.

Lawyer Jospeh Brincat was defence counsel to Sultana.

More in Court & Police