Court overturns pickpockets' jail sentence due to serious defects

The two pickpockets had been convicted of stealing and using cash and bank cards and jailed for 18 months, but the appeals court has revoked this, finding serious defects in the lower court's sentence

Two Bulgarian women have seen their pickpocketing conviction overturned on appeal and sent back to the Court of Magistrates after serious defects were found in the judgment which had put them behind bars.

Judge Giovanni Grixti, presiding the court of Criminal Appeal observed that Rusanka Dimitrova Staneva and Neli Ilieva had been convicted of stealing cash and bank cards and making use of them and jailed for 18 months in May this year, the court ordering their deportation after serving their sentence.

The pair had filed appeals.

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Defence lawyers Shazoo Ghaznavi and Charlon Gouder had argued that the first court had applied the law incorrectly, had commented and encouraged the authorities to deport the accused after serving their sentence and had made reference to a sentence in an attempted murder case which had nothing to do with the issue at hand.

Judge Grixti noted that the accused had admitted to the charges, but that the first court had erroneously used the wrong procedure.

The court also observed that the pair had been sentenced to 18 months imprisonment without specifying whether this meant that both accused would serve 18 months or nine months each.

“Certainly a joint punishment  is not valid in our system, except where indicated in the law. Section 382 of the criminal code requires, and today it is clear that the validity of the sentence hinges on this, that when our courts pass sentence on the accused, it must give the punishment...” the court said.

By simply condemning the accused to 18 months imprisonment without specifying, the court had failed to give punishment as required by Section 382. Consequently this led to an absence of an essential formality which caused the nullity of the sentence.

In addition to this, the court noted that as the charges exceeded the ordinary competence of the Court of Magistrates, the prosecution was required to obtain the consent of the accused to continue proceedings summarily. This was also missing.

Judge Grixti said he had no other option but to declare the sentence null and revoke it, sending the acts back to the first court with the appellants being placed in the same position as when they had been arraigned under arrest before the first court.