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Vinson Ariste

  • The Bahamas
  • Wrongful Conviction; Innocent; Miscarriage of Justice

In 2010, Vinson Ariste was arrested at his home on suspicion of armed robbery. Despite not being the prime suspect at the time of his arrest, Vinson was arrested, detained, and forced to confess by police officers. His confession led to his conviction at trial. He was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

Please note, this case includes detailed accounts of torture which some readers may find distressing.

Vinson’s Story  

In 2010, police came to his home seeking to question his brother about an armed robbery. Instead, Vinson was arrested and taken into police custody. Vinson was only 20 years old at the time of his arrest and had no previous convictions.

Police violence and abuse

Across six days in police detention, Vinson was beaten and denied legal representation by members of the Central Detective Unit (CDU). He gave accounts at trial of being beaten with a cutlass (sharp sword like blade often used in farming) and a baseball bat. He also described being suffocated with a bag , partially filled with water, a practice known as “fish bagging.”

During this ordeal, he was forced to sign ‘confessions’ by officers to several other offences, including a separate armed robbery and a murder. In total, he was made to confess to at least seven separate groups of offences, including a murder. These were all crimes he did not commit. All questioning took place without the presence of a lawyer.

Wrongful conviction

Vinson always maintained his innocence. During his trial at The Bahamas Supreme Court, two years later after his arrest, Vinson had no legal representation. The only evidence which the prosecution relied upon was his ‘confession’. No other witness or documentary evidence was put to the jury.

The trial judge refused to exclude his ‘confession’ from the trial. There was no documented evidence of his confessions being made, neither video nor audio recording was made of the interviews conducted by the police. His confession was made through an account of an officer from the CDU unit, who was tasked with writing down what Vinson had allegedly confessed to. The trial judge gave no reasons for this decision.

A doctor also examined Vinson, giving evidence of the injuries he sustained including multiple handcuff abrasions and a temporal abrasion, as well as injury to his buttocks. Nevertheless, Vinson was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to a term of 15 years imprisonment.

Appeal to the Privy Council

In 2019, The Death Penalty Project began to assist Vinson’s case, alongside his local Bahamian legal team in an appeal in the Privy Council. The team at The Death Penalty Project worked with barristers Brick Court Chambers (UK) and Murrio D. Ducille & Co (The Bahamas) to overturn his conviction and prove his innocence.

Conviction Quashed

In the judgment of the Privy Council, 31 May 2023, it was found that the courts in The Bahamas had made serious errors regarding whether or not his confession was admissible, and the Privy Council overturned his conviction. Notably, the Board commented:

‘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.’

Vinson’s story is a classic case of miscarriage of justice. The case against him was based on a single piece of evidence – forced confessions – that should never have been admitted at trial.

After severing 12 years in prison as an innocent man, Vinson finally cleared his name.

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!

Vinson Ariste

Case Timeline

  1. Armed robbery took place, a woman was robbed at gunpoint

  2. Vinson was arrested and detained by the Police on 21 July. Vinson was questioned by the CDU and confessed to multiple crimes. There was no video or audio record of his confessions.

  3. Vinson is examined by the prison doctor, who noted that there were a number of injuries to his head, wrists and buttocks.

  4. He was tried at the Supreme Court, who convicted him of armed robbery.

  5. Vinson was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

  6. The Death Penalty Project began assisting Vinson pro-bono, building an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC).

  7. The JCPC grants Mr. Ariste permission to appeal.

  8. Case heard before the JCPC

  9. Vinson’s conviction overturned in the JCPC. He finally cleared his name.

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