The lack of legal assistance during police interrogation has once again led to an acquittal, this time of a man who had been arrested after he was found in possession of ecstasy pills during a party in Ta’ Qali.

Although this right was introduced only a few years ago, there were still repercussions following successful legal challenges mounted by aggrieved parties at appeal stage before the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights. This led to a number of acquittals and the release of convicted persons.

The latest case concerns Eugenio Sultana, 47, who was arrested in September 2009. Two plain clothes police officers had noticed Mr Sultana looking for something in his hands, which turned out to be the ecstasy pills.

Security staff, however, interpreted the events unfolding before them as some form of commotion and intervened.  In the ensuring confusion, the accused threw the pills away before he was arrested. The police were only able to recover some of them.

During proceedings, the accused testified that he had picked up the bag after stepping on it on his way to the party venue. While he initially thought it contained a mobile phone, he later discovered its true contents.

The court heard that the police had refused to believe his version and arrested him.

After spending a day under arrest, the man had asked to call his employer to advise him about his absence from work but he was not allowed to do so. Subsequently, he filed an admission and was then allowed to contact his lawyer.

The court, presided by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras, ruled that such a statement was not admissible as evidence as he had not been assisted by a lawyer. She noted that her decision was in line with both European and local case law.

Although there was no doubt that the accused had been in possession of the pills at the time of his arrest, the court felt that his explanation as to how they had come into his possession was truthful.

It also felt that his reaction was consistent with that of a person who had been looking at an object which he had just picked up, perhaps also realising they were ecstasy pills, and then panicking after being surprised by the police.

Consequently, the man was declared innocent. Lawyer Joe Brincat was defence counsel and police inspector Dennis Theuma prosecuted. 

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