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PRESS RELEASE: Forced to confess - Privy Council quashes conviction in The Bahamas – describing original conviction as “unsafe and unsatisfactory”

  • News
  • 31 May 2023

Today, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council allowed the appeal of Vinson Ariste and quashed his conviction and sentence of 15 years imprisonment, for armed robbery. The appeal centred on a “confession” relied on at trial, which was forced from Ariste at the police station. At no stage was Ariste legally represented. The prosecution was unable to produce any other evidence that linked him to the offence.  Ariste has finally cleared his name after spending over a decade in prison.

In quashing the conviction on the basis that it was unsafe, the Privy Council expressed…deep concern about what has happened in this case. A young man has been languishing in prison for over 12 years on the basis of a confession that should never have been admitted in evidence against him.

Background

On 21 July 2010, Ariste was arrested at his home on suspicion of armed robbery. Across six days in police detention, he was beaten and denied legal representation by members of the Central Detective Unit (CDU). During this ordeal, Ariste was forced to “confess” to a number of offences, including a separate armed robbery, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and a murder. In total, he was made to confess to at least seven other crimes that he did not commit. All questioning took place without the presence of a lawyer.

At trial, Ariste gave evidence of being beaten by the police with a cutlass and baseball bat and also being suffocated with a bag and water, a practice known as ‘fish bagging’, during his police interrogation. A doctor later gave further evidence on the injuries he sustained as a result of the abuse in police custody, including multiple handcuff abrasions and a temporal abrasion. Regardless, a judge refused to exclude the evidence contained in his ‘confession’ from the trial.

There was no evidence linking Ariste to the robbery, or any other offence, and he had no previous convictions. The prosecution’s case relied solely on the coerced confession obtained by the CDU officers. The confession was not recorded by the police with audio or video footage, rather a member of the police wrote down what Ariste had ‘confessed’ to. As Ariste had been denied access to a lawyer, there was no other independent account of what had happened during the CDU officers’ questioning.

The Judgment

Quashing Ariste’s conviction, the Privy Council found that courts in The Bahamas made serious errors in admitting the ‘confession’ into evidence. The Board stated that there were features of the case which should have troubled the courts. These included the CDU officers’ implausible accounts of how Ariste came to suffer physical injuries and the inherently improbable explanation given by the prosecution that Ariste would “…voluntarily confess, without a lawyer, to offences…including murder, for which there was no independent evidence.”

The Board also raised concerns regarding Ariste’s lack of representation during the interrogation, based on Ariste’s account that he was told he did not need representation by police officers, as well as his lack of representation at trial.  The trial judge should have explained to the jury that Ariste had no previous convictions.

Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director of The Death Penalty Project said: At every stage, both at the police station and at trial, Mr Ariste has been failed by the criminal justice system. He suffered unforgivable abuse during his time in police custody.  His case is just one example of coercive and unlawful policing practices that can lead to individuals being wrongfully convicted. An innocent person has lost years of his life for a crime he did not commit.  Due process rights must be at the forefront of the trial process to avoid similar miscarriages of justice.

ENDS

On hearing the news of the judgment Mr Ariste said:

I am just happy I got my life back.  This has lifted a huge burden off of my shoulders and has proven what I’ve been trying to tell the world all along – that I am innocent and, that I knew nothing of these matters.  I am just so happy that I can move on and get my life back together.  I feel uplifted.  Thank God!

Notes to Editors

Notes to Editors  

The judgment can be found at this link: https://www.jcpc.uk/cases/docs/jcpc-2019-0010-judgment.pdf

Facts about the case

In 2016, a further charge for a second armed robbery was brought against Ariste, based on the same series of “confessions” extracted from Ariste by the CDU in July 2010. In a second trial, Ariste had legal representation and continued to argue that the confession evidence had been obtained through physical violence. The trial judge in 2016, Isaacs J, accepted Ariste’s argument ruling that his confessions should not be put to the jury as evidence. Following this ruling, the prosecution withdrew the charges.

The Legal Team

Mr Ariste, was represented by Paul Bowen KC, Emma Mockford, Jagoda Klimowicz of Brick Court Chambers (UK) and Krysta A. Mason Smith of Murrio Ducille & Co (The Bahamas) instructed by The Death Penalty Project (UK).

The Death Penalty Project

The Death Penalty Project (DPP) is a legal action NGO, based at Simons Muirhead Burton LLP, with special consultative status before the United Nations Economic and Social Council. For more than three decades, the DPP has worked to protect the rights of those facing the death penalty and promote fair criminal justice systems, where the rights of all people are respected.

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