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Passport scam case dismissed; defence to apply for retrial

High Court judge dismisses passport forgery case against suspended police officer and former passport office worker, defense aims for retrial

High Court judge Tunde Bakre has dismissed the case against suspended police officer, Ray John and former passport office worker, Shakeema Charles who are accused of forging bio pages for Antigua and Barbuda passports and receiving property related to that crime.

After being on trial for several weeks, on Tuesday morning, the judge agreed with the defendants’ attorneys that he had no jurisdiction to try the matter. Marshall Jr.’s argument was that the charges do not form part of the list of matters that can be tried by a judge alone under the Criminal Proceedings (Trial by Judge Alone) Act 2021  and the judge therefore has no jurisdiction to try the case. In addition he said the accused never agreed to be tried by a judge alone which is listed as a requirement for the trial to proceed. 

In giving his ruling, justice Bakre said while the state prosecution made compelling arguments regarding the defence attorney’s latest application, he had to follow the literal interpretation of the law. 

Just as the prosecution closed its case, Hugh Marshall Jr.,lead lawyer for John made an application to the High Court to dismiss the case. His application was supported by Charles’ attorney Michael Archibald. It was their second attempt to have the case thrown out of court. 

In their first attempt they attempted to show why there was not enough proper evidence to lead to a guilty verdict, arguing that the way evidence was gathered to be presented to the court was defective. But the judge denied their no case submission, stating that there was enough evidence following the preliminary hearing that a crime occurred.

What does this mean?

For now, Ray John and Shakeema Charles remain free from the charges of conspiracy to forge and receiving, pending any further action from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). The DPP may opt to file for a retrial in the High Court.

Several scenarios could unfold as a result of this decision. The matter might be referred to the Magistrates’ Court for trial as misdemeanors or summary charges, as argued by the defence attorneys. Alternatively, it could remain in the High Court but be tried by a jury instead of a judge alone. However, concerns about potential prejudice due to prior publicity of the prosecution’s case may arise.

In such a scenario, the acting DPP could argue for a retrial in the High Court, with a judge alone presiding, but with the consent of the accused—a step omitted ahead of the first trial, as highlighted by the defense attorneys. Should the accused decline another judge-alone trial, the DPP would need to make a compelling case for a waiver of that section of the law, allowing the trial to proceed at the High Court with a judge alone presiding.

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