Assoc. Justice Banks: “Each defendant’s liberty should be treated with the utmost care, and the judge must ensure that the standard which he or she applies is no less than he would apply or expect in his own situation.”
Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks’ November 5, 2014, in a ruling, has exposed the carelessness and ethical breach by then Criminal Court ‘A’ Judge Sikajipa Wolloh to send two defendants to jail for six years each for attempted murder instead of the maximum five years set by the Penal Law.
Defendants Roger Yeakula and Mark Yeakula were indicted in 2009 for allegedly inflicting serious bodily injuries on Daniel Clarke with sticks and knives.
After hearing the case in 2010 Judge Wolloh convicted and sentenced the men to six year terms of imprisonment each at the Monrovia Central Prison. The decision was rejected by the defense team and it announced an appeal before the Supreme Court.
Judge Wolloh’s judgment stated,” It is the ruling of this court that the two defendants are adjudged guilty and should be sentenced to six years imprisonment.”
Defending his decision, Judge Wolloh explained that the “admission that they fought and wounded the complainant, Daniel Clarke, is sufficient to adjudge them guilty.”
However, section 10.1 of the Penal Law designates murder a first degree offense and criminal attempt to commit murder a second degree felony. The Penal Law sets the maximum prison term for a second degree felony at five years.
Justice Banks, in his ruling, pointed out that Judge Wolloh made a grave error in applying the preponderance (majority) of the evidence standard to the trial.
Furthermore Judge Wolloh committed yet another egregious and glaring error in sentencing the defendants to six year terms of imprisonment, exceeding the maximum term of imprisonment for a second degree felony, Justice Banks contended.
The Justice lamented: “We are disappointed that Judge Wolloh did not seem to demonstrate this cardinal virtue in the case.”
According to him, Judge Wolloh not only applied the wrong evidentiary standard, but also, “he compounded his error with the further error in sentencing the defendants to a higher term of imprisonment than is provided for by the law.”
Justice Banks therefore declared: “The court, in accordance with the sentencing law of this jurisdiction, reduces the sentence imposed by the trial judge from six years imprisonment to three years imprisonment.”
He clarified: “We hold the view that while the offense with which the defendants were charged and convicted was egregious, we believe that based upon all of the circumstances of the case and the facts appertaining thereto as revealed by the records, a term of imprisonment of two and one-half years, seems an appropriate penalty.”
“Consistent therewith, we hereby modify the judgment and reduce the term of imprisonment accordingly,” the Associate Justice restated.
Justice Banks added that any period of the sentence which the defendants had already served would be deducted from the penalty.
He instructed the Clerk of the Court to send a mandate to the judge presiding over the lower court from where the appeal was taken to resume jurisdiction over the case, and to proceed to enforce the judgment of the court.
Delving into the handling of cases by judges, Justice Banks chided: “It is inexcusable for any circuit judge, especially in conducting a criminal trial, not to be conversant with the statute governing the conduct of the trial.” He admonished that judges conducting criminal trials, must remember that the liberties, privileges and property of defendants in their courtrooms are at stake and that it is compulsory that they keep “abreast with and display at all times adequate and sufficient knowledge of the law, substantive and procedural, no matter how basic or complex, so that rights guaranteed by our laws are not transgressed or rendered meaningless.”
He added: “Each defendant’s liberty should be treated with the utmost care, and the judge must ensure that the standard which he or she applies is no less than he would apply or expect in his own situation.”