By Paul Taylor QC
The Caribbean Court of Justice (Appellate Jurisdiction)
Judge only trial – hearsay – treatment of evidence – defence case
Dioncicio Salazar v The Queen
 CCJ 15 (AJ)
On appeal from the Court of Appeal of Belize
DS was convicted of the murder of Rivera after a trial before a Judge without a jury.
The prosecution had alleged that DS approached Rivera and Dougal and shot both men. The main issue in this case was whether that murder was committed by DS. He denied involvement from the start. The prosecution’s case was based, to a great extent, on the evidence of Dougal’s common law wife, Bahado, Rodriguez, a former police officer who at the time was on mobile patrol near to the scene, and a deposition (police statement) of Dean Dougal, who had died (of causes unrelated to the shooting) prior to the start of the trial.
The grounds of appeal were as follows:
- The trial judge had given “full weight” to the deposition of Dougal. DS argued that hearsay evidence admitted under section 123 of the Indictable Procedure Act [IPA] must as a starting point be considered of lesser weight than similar evidence admitted under section 105 Evidence Act, although at the end after a full analysis of the entire evidence it could be given full weight.
- The trial judge considered a portion of a transcript of a previous unrelated trial, which had not been entered as evidence in the trial against him for the sake of confirmation of evidence given by DS’s alibi witness.
- The judge had wrongly admitted the statement of Rodriguez where he testified that he had heard Bahado say that “Life just shot my husband” as this was hearsay evidence the prejudicial effect of which far outweighed its probative value. But even if it was admissible, it was evidence of too poor a quality to be used in a serious matter as this one.
- The judge had not properly considered the defence case as she had already reached the conclusion that he was guilty before she even looked at his alibi evidence. In his view she should have considered all the evidence before concluding halfway through the judgment that he had killed the deceased.
The CCJ analysed the judge’s decision and rejected the criticism.
The CCJ also made some general comments regarding:
- The constitutional requirement that any criminal trial needs to be fair. This implies, among other things, that the accused and society must be able to understand the verdict flowing from that trial. Underlying this idea are the rule of law and the avoidance of arbitrariness. [Para 25]
- The differences between challenging judge only and jury trials on appeal [Paras 26 and 27], and the extent to which a judge only must give reasons [28 and 29];
- The situation in Belize where it appears that the unsworn statement of a person to a police officer is in principle admissible as evidence in criminal proceedings if the maker of the statement dies before the trial. Such out of court statements are regularly used in Belize and are admitted either under section 123 IPA or section 105 Evidence Act. [Paras 36 -40].
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