Jail term for convicted thief Maximilian Ciantar confirmed

The convicted thief's nine-month jail term was confirmed on appeal, after the court noted a shift in the European Human Rights Court's rulings on the right to legal assistance during questioning

Maximilian Ciantar
Maximilian Ciantar

Thief Maximilian Ciantar, who was arrested as he tried to rob a couple in Dingli three years ago, has had his nine-month jail term confirmed on appeal, after a court noted a shift in European Court of Human Right's rulings on the right to legal assistance during questioning.

Ciantar, who had been jailed for two years for running over 10-year-old twin girls in Attard in 2011, was one of two thieves who had broken into a farmhouse in Dingli on Easter Sunday during the early morning, in an attempt to rob the farmer and his wife, who had been milking their cows.

Ciantar, 26 at the time, together with 19-year-old Darryl Anthony Anderson had disguised their appearance, Ciantar donning a dark headscarf and Anderson a crash helmet before threatening the couple with a knife, wielded by Ciantar.

The farmer had run off, chased by Ciantar while Anderson had punched the woman, ordering her to hand over money. The woman had later told the police that her husband had been carrying some €1,000 in cash when he fled the scene.

The robbery was unsuccessful however, being disrupted by the arrival of the police.

The couple had later identified the aggressors at the police station and had also pointed them out in court.

The Court of Magistrates had convicted Ciantar in November 2017, handing him a nine-month jail term, which he had appealed.

Ciantar’s lawyer contested the conviction on the grounds that it was reliant on the victims’ identification of the suspect, which he said had been ‘contaminated’ by the police officers’ influence at the police station.

However, the court observed that although this manner of identification should always allow for genuine error and was always to be analyzed with great caution, in this case, the couple’s description had been precise.

The evidence pointed to the fact that the sole reason for Ciantar’s presence at the farmhouse was to commit theft. Even though he had claimed that he had accompanied his friend without knowing what was going to happen, once there, he had gone along with his friend’s plan and his actions amounted to preparatory acts to the perpetration of the crime.

The court observed how, in his statement to the police, Ciantar had described the incident as a stupid adventure which he would never repeat.

It was this statement which was attacked by the appeal, with its probatory value, not having been released in the presence of a lawyer, being questioned by the appellant.

But in a marked departure from recent case law on the subject, Judge Edwina Grima, presiding the court of criminal appeal, declared that the issue needed to be analysed with more caution in the light of a recent ECHR pronouncement which had changed the former judicial criteria.

In the 2018 case Philippe Beuze vs Belgium, the Grand Chamber of the ECHR declared that in criminal proceedings, a statement by the accused when not assisted by a lawyer, was not to be automatically discarded as evidence, but its admissibility was to be first subjected to a two-part test: Firstly the court was to see whether there were compelling reasons for the right to a lawyer to be withheld and, secondly, then to assess the overall fairness of the proceedings.

In this case, Ciantar had consulted his lawyer, Joseph Brincat, before the interrogation and had been well-assisted all throughout the court proceedings, Madam Justice Grima observed.

In addition to this, at the time of the attempted robbery, Ciantar had been 26 years old with 11 previous convictions on his criminal record and therefore did not qualify as a “vulnerable person,” the court observed.

There was also the fact that Ciantar’s statement had only served to corroborate the version of events given by the couple who had been the prosecution’s main witnesses and who had identified Ciantar as one of the robbers.

Finally, the court noted that the current right to legal assistance during interrogation did not actually translate into “much effective assistance,” as lawyers could only intervene in exceptional circumstances, this under a proviso which did not feature in the relevant EU Directive.

Having taken all of this into account, the court ruled that the accused’s statement and the testimony of the victims all served to confirm his guilt and rejected the appeal, reaffirming his punishment.