Gozo woman acquitted after being charged twice for the same offence

A Gozo woman has been cleared of drug trafficking charges after a court heard how she had been charged twice with the same offences

A woman has been cleared of drug trafficking charges after a court heard how she had been charged twice with the same offences.

Dorothy Refalo had been investigated for trafficking and aggravated possession of heroin in July and August 2009 and was charged in two separate proceedings with offences dating back to July and August 2009 in one, and the same offences relating to the period of March 2010 and the preceding four years in the other.

The latter case had reached the court of appeal, which had reduced Refalo’s punishment from the original two and a half years to one-year imprisonment. In that decision, the court presided over by Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti, noted that the principle of ne bis in idem, which prevents persons from being found guilty twice for the same fact, was not applicable since the proceedings in the other case were still ongoing.

That legal principle was also pivotal in a decision handed down by Magistrate Joseph Mifsud in the Court of Magistrates in Gozo almost a month after that judgment.

In it, Mifsud examined local and European case law on the subject of ne bis in idem and cited the Opinion of Advocate General Kokott in a 2012 case where the ne bis in idem principle was described as being based “largely on a fundamental right enshrined in the ECHR.”

The Court observed that the charges referring to July and August 2009 were included in those referring to “March 2010 and the preceding four years”, for which the accused had already been convicted.

Acquitting the accused, the magistrate urged more cooperation and coordination between the different divisions of the police corps to avoid the possibility of overlapping charges, also saying that this problem appeared to have already been addressed in Gozo by setting up of a permanent detachment from the Drugs Squad in Gozo to coordinate with the district police.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Angie Muscat were defence counsel.

More in Court & Police
Man injured at Qrendi construction site
Court & Police
Karl Azzopardi
Motorcyclist seriously injured in Xewkija accident
48-year-old hospitalised after Paceville bar fight
Stabbing leaves 24-year-old seriously injured
Court & Police
Karl Azzopardi