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Eyewitness News (The Bahamas) - Privy Council quashes conviction of man imprisoned due to ‘forced’ confession

  • DPP in the Media
  • 1 Jun 2023

This article was originally published in Eyewitness News (The Bahamas) by Natario McKenzie, June 1 2023.

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — A man has had his armed robbery conviction and sentence quashed by the Privy Council after expressing “deep concern” that he had been “languishing in prison” for over 12 years on the basis of a confession that should never have been admitted in evidence against him.

In a judgement handed down yesterday, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council allowed the appeal of Vinson Ariste and quashed his conviction and sentence of 15 years imprisonment. The appeal centered on a “confession” relied on at trial, which was forced from Ariste at a police station. 

On July 21 2010, Ariste was arrested at his home on suspicion of armed robbery. The victim Andrea Donaldson was robbed at gunpoint by a number of men. Ariste, who was aged 20 at the time, was arrested by the police at his home on 21 July 2010. Across six days in police detention, he was beaten and denied legal representation by police.

During this ordeal, Ariste was said to have been forced to “confess” to a number of offenses, including a separate armed robbery, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and 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 his trial, Ariste claimed to have been 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.

The Privy Council determined that the trial judge made an incorrect decision on a question of law or fact in admitting the confession after the voir dire. The Privy Council also found that the Court of Appeal was therefore incorrect to have dismissed his appeal. The Court of Appeal had determined that the trial judge was correct in admitting the record of the interview and determined that based on the evidence presented, Ariste’s injuries were sustained prior to him coming into police custody.

“We cannot conclude this judgment without expressing the Board’s 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,” the Privy Council stated.

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). 

On hearing the news of the judgment 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!”

Parvais Jabbar, Co-Executive Director of The Death Penalty Project—a legal action NGO—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,” said Jabbar.

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