Thief’s 30-month prison term reduced to suspended sentence on appeal

Court of Appeal changes sentence of man found guilty of theft on a farm on basis of fingerprint evidence, finds First Court didn’t prove he was a recidivist

A man who had been sentenced to 30 months in prison for having stolen horse-related items has had his sentence reduced to a 12-month term, suspended for four years, after the Appeals Court found he had been unjustly tried as a recidivist.

The case dates back to the theft of items used in horse riding, the value of which was less than €3,000, from a shed in Marsaxlokk in 2008. In 2017, Raymond Galea had been found guilty of aggravated theft, after his fingerprint was found on a singular object in the crime scene – a photo of a race-winning horse owned by the owner of the farm. He was subsequently sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Galea, however, appealed the case, and requested that his sentence be either turned into a not guilty verdict, or else be reduced to one which was more just.

In Galea’s appeal, the argument was made that while it could be said with certainty that the object in question had been touched by Galea, it could not as a consequence say that he was involved in the theft in question.

It was also noted how Galea had, in his police statements, denied any involvement in the crime he was accused of.

The appeal further argued that the prosecution had stopped short of proving, beyond any reasonable doubt, that Galea had been guilty of the crime. Referring to previous sentences, it emphasised that the proof against the accused has to lead to one unequivocal conclusion – that the accused is guilty.

Galea, in fact, argued that a single fingerprint was not enough to prove he was guilty, since no other proof of such guilt was found.

His appeal also challenged the lower court’s consideration that he was a recidivist, arguing that – while the prosecution had brought forward three previous sentences handed down to Galea, one of which was undated – it had failed to show any evidence that such sentences had been final and that they had not been appealed.

Galea also argued that his sentence was exaggerated and disproportionate in nature, especially considering the time which had passed from the alleged crime to the sentencing, and the not very considerable value of the stolen objects. It also highlighted that the objective of a court sentence was to be reformative, and that previous case law had underlined the importance of giving someone a second chance in life.

The Court of Appeal considered these arguments and determined that, when it came to Galea’s guilt regarding involvement in the theft, he had not explained how his fingerprint had ended up on the object in the farm, after he had stated that he had never entered the building.

It referred to case law which made it clear that fingerprints were enough proof to alone return a guilty verdict, and declared that the fingerprint in itself, in this case, was enough to convince it that Galea was guilty of theft.

However, when it came to recidivism, the court said that the prosecution had failed to prove that Galea’s three previous sentences – which involved fines – had in fact been paid, and therefore it had not in effect been shown that Galea was a recidivist. While the court acknowledged that one might not pay fines one is sentenced to pay to avoid being treated as a recidivist, it said that this was the way the law was. “The law is harsh, but it is the law,” it said.

Regarding the 30-month sentence given, the court considered that since then, Galea had added various other contraventions to his conduct sheet. However, it did not result that he had spent any time in prison or been given any suspended sentence.

The court, therefore, denied Galea’s request to be released from the guilty charge for aggravated theft, but upheld his request to release him from the accusation of recidivism. It then reduced his sentence to one of 12 months imprisonment, suspended for four years.

Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera presided.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia appeared for the appellant.