A man, who was sentenced to jail and fined over one gram of cocaine allegedly shared with friends at a party 13 years ago, has been cleared on appeal.
Daniel Gatt was 18 years old when he went to the party at Gianpula nighclub along with his girlfriend in 2008 on the eve of the June 29 public holiday.
Two Drug Squad officers patrolling the car park spotted two young women behaving suspiciously.
Upon closer inspection, it turned out that one of the women was in possession of a rolled-up €20 note containing a suspicious substance, later certified as cocaine.
She claimed to have acquired the drug from her boyfriend whom she called on her mobile.
When Gatt joined his friend shortly afterwards, he was arrested.
He later told the police how the couple, together with a friend, had bought one gram of cocaine to share, each forking out money for his one third-share.
The teenager was subsequently charged with trafficking and aggravated possession of cocaine, landing a 6-month jail term and a €750 fine upon conviction by a Magistrates’ Court in 2014.
Pending appeal proceedings, Gatt filed a constitutional case to challenge the admissibility of his statement to the police, made without legal assistance when he was 18-years of age.
That statement was eventually declared inadmissible.
Subsequently, Gatt’s lawyers, Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri, requested a social inquiry report in respect of the accused and also invoked the provisions of the Drug Dependence (Treatment Not Imprisonment) Act.
That request was upheld in 2019 and proceedings before the Court of Criminal Appeal were stopped while the case was assessed by the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board.
When delivering judgment the Court Of Criminal Appeal, presided over by Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti, observed that this lengthy process, possibly resulting in an acquittal, needed to be addressed by the legislator.
This was a frequent occurrence which could spell a useless waste of time in hearing testimonies, sending the case before the Drug Offenders Rehabilitation Board, ultimately resulting in an acquittal, observed Mr Justice Grixti.
The court noted that the evidence at hand did not even prove trafficking by sharing since the accused’s girlfriend had testified how she and Gatt together with a friend had bought the gram of cocaine together, pooling money accordingly.
Moreover, the statement released by the accused’s girlfriend to the police at the time of arrest, was missing from the records of the case.
As a court of criminal competence, evidence was to be preserved “meticulously and in terms of law,” said the court, stating further that this was also “a court of justice” and thus the court “could not turn a blind eye to such a formal defect.”
In light of such considerations, the court quashed the conviction and acquitted the appellant.
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