Judge rules police endangered evidence, dismisses robbery charges

    A charge of armed robbery has been dismissed after Mr Justice Cato ruled that police had endangered the validity of evidence.

    The judge made the ruling during the trial of Heamani Lopeti on a charge of armed robbery of a Chinese store in Longolongo Tongatapu on March 25, 2016.

    Lopeti was charged with the offence, even though there as little evidence apart from an informant’s statement that was the robber.

    Mr Justice Cato said that a witness, Ioko Manavahetu, also known as Ioko Latu, was shown a series of photographs by police shortly before the trial and identified Lopeti from them.

    However, it was revealed during the trial that police had also shown her a photograph of the accused before being shown the montage of photos.

    The Crown prosecutor, Mr Aho, was surprised at this revelation and said he knew nothing about it.

    Mr Justice Cato  halted the trial and sent the jury away.

    He said that if Mr  Lopeti  had not  raised  the  issue,  the  case would have gone to the  jury  without  anybody  knowing  that Ms Latu had been shown a  photograph  of  the  accused  alone  prior to the  montage  procedure.

    This  omission  had the  potential to cause a serious  miscarriage  of justice.

    “I consider there was much more than a real risk in this case that showing Ms Latu the single photograph of the accused which she said she recognized as the same photograph in the photo montage would contaminate the integrity of the photo montage identification,” the judge said.

    He said a previous ruling had declared that it was wrong to show a single   photograph of an accused to a person who was going to called as an identifying  witness.

    “When this occurs there  is, as here, a serious risk of contamination of the integrity of identification,” the judge said.

    “In my view, to admit this evidence following what was unsatisfactory police practice would be wrong.

    “The evidence is, in my view, so diminished in its integrity and probative value, that it would be impossible for  a  jury to reliably act and convict upon it.”

    Mr Justice Cato said that because he had ruled the identification evidence as inadmissible,  the  prosecution  could  not  succeed.  He further ruled that a prima facie case has not  been  established  and the  charge  of armed  robbery  is dismissed.

    The main points

    • A charge of armed robbery has been dismissed after Mr Justice Cato ruled that police had endangered the validity of evidence.
    • The judge made the ruling during the trial of Heamani Lopeti on a charge of armed robbery of a Chinese store in Longolongo Tongatapu on March 25, 2016.
    • However, it was revealed during the trial that police had also shown her a photograph of the accused before being shown the montage of photos.
    • He said a previous ruling had declared that it was wrong to show a single photograph of an accused to a person who was going to called as an identifying witness.

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