A man found guilty of breaking into a Marsaxlokk farmhouse 10 years ago has had his 30-month jail sentence converted to a suspended sentence on appeal.

Raymond Galea, 52, will not serve time in jail after a court found that prosecutors’ charge of recidivism was invalid as there was no evidence that Mr Galea had served any time behind bars or paid any fines for previous offences.

According to the Criminal Code, a person is only be deemed to be a recidivist once the punishment for the earlier offence had been served. Prosecutors must therefore not only prove that a person has been convicted, but also that the relative punishment had been served.

Mr Galea had been found guilty of the January 2008 break-in after a fingerprint found on a picture of a racehorse lying inside a showcase at the crime scene was found to match his.

Under police interrogation, Mr Galea had insisted that he had never set foot inside the farmhouse and that he was not involved in the aggravated theft of farm equipment related to horse-breeding.

The owner of the farmhouse had also stated that Mr Galea was a complete stranger and that he had never handed the photo bearing the fingerprint to any third party or removed it from his home.

However, the Magistrates’ Court had concluded in June 2017 that there was sufficient forensic evidence linking Mr Galea to the theft, declared him guilty and handed down a 30-month effective jail term, in view of the fact that the man was also found guilty of recidivism.

Mr Galea filed an appeal, arguing that there had been a wrong assessment of evidence, that the punishment was excessive and that the accusation of recidivism could not stand.

The Court of Appeal, presided over by Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, confirmed the finding of guilt but upheld the appeal on the ground that the appellant had been wrongly convicted of recidivism.

The court observed that although the accused had an unruly character, landing unconditional discharges and a fine over the past three years, there was no evidence that he had served time behind bars or paid any fines, and could therefore not be considered a recidivist.

Acknowledging that the wording of the law regarding recidivism left much to be desired, since it could be used to favour the wrongdoer who might refrain from paying a court fine to avoid becoming a recidivist, the court ordered that a copy of the judgment be delivered to the Attorney General.

Whilst upholding the appeal in respect of the non-applicability of the charge of recidivism, the court declared the accused guilty of the aggravated theft but converted the punishment to a 12-month jail term suspended for four years.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia were defence counsel.