Large numbers of criminal defendants who had been jointly placed on a single indictment (accusation or charge), have the legal opportunity to appeal for the separation of their charges from each other, after Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh ruled that prosecution’s charges against defendants Alice and Edwina Youti had been wrongly handled by Judge Roosevelt Willie of Criminal Court ‘A.’
Defendants Alice and Edwina were along with the prime defendant, Jonathan Williams jointly indicted by the government for the death of Journalist Tyron A. Browne of Super FM Radio Station on April 15 this year, in the Duport Road Community, Paynesville.
The Youtis were charged with hindering law enforcement on grounds that they allegedly, deliberately and criminally concealed information about the murder of Journalist Browne by defendant Williams from April 15 up to the date of his arrest on April 20 when he was subsequently charged with murder.
Based on those charges, the Youti legal team, headed by Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi, prayed Judge Roosevelt Willie to separately try co-defendants Alice and Edwina from Williams, because the indictment charging the two co-defendants for hindering law enforcement did not point out any acts of conspiracy and facilitation by them to commit the alleged act of murder.
Despite their arguments, Judge Willie proceeded to deny and subsequently demand that they be jointly tried with defendant Williams, who is on trial for murder. Therefore Cllr. Massaquoi filed for a writ of certiorari, contending that only the magisterial court has jurisdiction over the matter, and not the Criminal Court ‘A.’
In her ruling, Justice Yuoh maintained that Willie was in error to have denied the defendants separate trial, and that such denial endangers the rights of the accused to have a free, fair and impartial trial.
Therefore, she reminded Willie that prosecuting the defendants along with a murder suspect will be antagonistic that would amount to unfair prejudice against them; one of the arguments relied upon by Cllr. Massaquoi.
“The alternative writ of certiorari is hereby affirmed and the pre-emptory writ is ordered issued,” Justice Yuoh declared.
Judge Willie’s ruling denying the motion for separate trial from defendant Williams by Alice and Edwina Youti is hereby reversed, according to Justice Yuoh.
She meanwhile instructed by saying that “the matter regarding the co-defendants be transferred to the appropriate magisterial court in accordance with the law regarding such transfer, and that the trial thereof be prioritized.”
Yuoh emphasized that in the face of Judge Willie’s enormous errors in handling the proceedings, his failure to relinquish jurisdiction on the charge of hindering law enforcement, a first degree misdemeanor cognizable before a magisterial court.
That decision was against numerous opinions of the Supreme Court, and “his disregard for the defendants’ constitutional right to be tried by a magisterial court are all circumstances when put together justifies the reversal of his ruling, and granting the pre-emptory writ of certiorari,” she added defending her action.
According to Yuoh, “prosecution in our jurisdiction is to seek justice for both the state as well as the criminal defendant but not to convict… To afford the accused a fair, speedily and impartial public trial is sacrosanct, irrespective of the ghastly character of the crime he or she is charged with. This is because fair trial, according to the Liberian constitution is an entitlement,” the Chamber justice explained.
“It is therefore, mandatory on all courts of law in this jurisdiction that rights that have been constitutionally granted, be safeguarded and enjoyed by all criminal defendants in the conduct of criminal proceedings. Utmost, diligence is even more obligatory on all courts in the country, where the criminal defendant is tried as those in the murder case,” Justice Yuoh said.
Prior to her decision, Massaquoi had argued that the joiner of the crimes of murder and hindering law enforcement would unfairly prejudice Alice and Edwina’s interest, and both constitutional and statutory rights of them.
He also contended that the allegation of hindering law enforcement as charged in the indictment may have occurred after the alleged act of murder was committed and completed.