Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tainted by inadmissible evidence?

If a judge tells a jury to ignore certain prosecution evidence, does that mean the wrongly admitted evidence can’t be used as grounds for appeal against conviction?

In Young v The State (Trinidad and Tobago) [2008] UKPC 27 (6 May 2008) there was a confession and a dock identification, both being obstacles to acquittals on charges of kidnapping and robbery. However, in directing the jury, the judge told the jury to ignore the dock identification. That left the confession, which, after an unsuccessful voir dire, the accused in evidence to the jury said was made as a result of threats from the police and in any event was not true, and he called an alibi witness.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, holding that the direction to the jury to ignore the dock identification made the giving of that evidence a dead issue. The Privy Council disagreed with that approach: it was necessary carefully to consider the way the jury might address the reliability of the confession. It was possible, at least in theory (but not, as it turned out, here), that the effect of the dock identification, even if it was ignored as one route to conviction, might influence the assessment of the reliability of the confession.

In this case, the Board held that the judge’s warning to the jury was sufficient to prevent that possible misuse of the evidence. This was not a situation where a Turnbull direction would have been appropriate as it would have been “confusing and potentially misleading” (para 20). The accused had not been deprived of a fair trial.

The Board cited, inter alia, Pipersburgh v R (Belize) (blogged here 26 February 2008), but did not cite Edwards v R (Jamaica) (blogged here 26 April 2006) in which strong comments against dock identification had been made. The position seems to be (para 17 of Young):

“…The trial judge must give sufficient warnings about the dangers of identification without a parade and the potential advantage of an inconclusive parade to a defendant, and direct the jury with care about the weakness of a dock identification. Much may depend on the circumstances of the case, the other evidence given and the run of the trial, so that it is not possible to lay down a universal direction applicable to all cases.”

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