Thief has 32-month prison sentence slashed to probation on appeal

He had been charged with stealing a luxury Omega watch, a mobile phone, a cheque for €3,500 and a wallet, amongst other items

A self-confessed thief who stole items worth thousands has had his two-and-a-half-year prison sentence slashed to probation, after the Court of Criminal Appeal said he was an ideal candidate for reform.

Otis Aquilina had been charged with stealing a luxury Omega watch, a mobile phone, a cheque for €3,500 and a wallet, amongst other items. In November 2016 he had pleaded guilty to aggravated theft and recidivism and was sentenced to 32 months in prison.

Aquilina had then filed an appeal, arguing that he had stolen the items because he was in debt to a usurer.

The Court of Criminal Appeal, presided by Mr. Justice Giovanni Grixti, observed that this allegation had not been mentioned during the case before the lower courts, not even by his Probation Officer. “Frankly, the court cannot imagine how this could justify the reason for the accused to commit this theft.”

The court also dismissed Aquilina’s argument that he had been in an unbalanced emotional state as a result of the usury and had been in a hurry to settle the debt as soon as possible. The argument was ill-considered and did not merit consideration by the court, said Mr. Justice Grixti, a criticism aimed at Aquilina’s lawyers at the time.

On the other hand, the court noted that during the hearing of the appeal, the accused had changed his lawyer and that his new lawyer, Franco Debono, had not made use of those arguments.

The court observed that a social enquiry report had been requested and had heard the testimony of a number of professionals, namely his probation officer, social worker and psychologist. These testified that the accused was making a great effort to put his life back on track, having been convicted of drug possession in 2004 and threatening police officers in 2011. It saw that Aquilina had a steady job and had given importance to his rehabilitation. The theft victim had also told the court that he saw the case as a “closed chapter.”

From what it had seen, the court said, it appeared that the appellant was a good candidate for a reform of punishment. For this reason, the court, whilst rejecting a request for the cancellation of the part of the sentence making reference to recidivism, revoked the punishment of 32 months’ imprisonment and, instead, imposed a 3-year probation order. The judge explained to the accused the obligations that this entailed.