Guilt admission allegation excluded in manslaughter trial
A man’s alleged admission that he swerved his car into Orlando Manulelia’s, deliberately killing him during a street race, has been ruled inadmissible at a trial investigating the man’s death.
Supreme Court Justice Fepulea'i Ameperosa Roma ruled against using the statement of admission, in the trial of Motu Taula, of Alafua and Vaimoso, who is facing a charge of vehicular manslaughter. Taula's charge followed the death of the 17-year-old boy and racer at Saleufi in July 2018.
Taula is represented by lawyer Leuluaiali’i Tasi Malifa and has entered a not guilty plea.
The prosecution alleges that Taula, during the course of an interview with the officer investigating the incident, Corporal Ieremia Su’a, admitted that he hit the deceased’s vehicle.
The Police claimed that Taula was racing with the deceased along the strip from the McDonald’s restaurant towards Taufusi and alleged he did not like the deceased because he considered him a showoff.
According to Corporal Ieremia, the accused admitted he had seen the deceased from his mirror and when the deceased overtook his car, he swerved his vehicle and hit the deceased’s vehicle.
The Prosecutor and Attorney General’s Office lawyer, Lucy Sio Ofoia, had sought to tender and rely on Corporal Ieremia’s evidence during the accused’s trial.
But the accused had asked the Court to exclude the admission on the basis that it was improperly obtained.
In his evidence, Taula does not deny going to the Police station and being interviewed by the Police officer.
He, however, denies that he was advised and explained his rights by Corporal Ieremia at any time during the interview.
The accused added that it was only during the second interview on 5 July 2018 that he was cautioned and he refused to make a statement.
According to Taula, all he was told on 2 July 2018 was to explain what happened and his involvement in the incident.
The Police Officer is adamant that the accused was informed of his rights.
In his decision into the application from prosecution to tender the admission as a trial document, Justice Fepuleai Ameperosa Roma found the evidence from the Police Officer as lacking in credibility.
“He was evasive and contradicting in his testimony,” he said.
Justice Roma said for such an important part of the Police investigatory work, the administering of caution for an accused should have been recorded as was the accused’s admission of his involvement.
“Corporal Ieremia says that the accused was cautioned twice, yet on both occasions, none was recorded except the admission by the accused,” he pointed out.
“Secondly if caution was in fact administered twice on 2 July 2018, why then was it necessary to obtain another cautioned statement 3 days later.
“Thirdly, his evidence is not supported by Constable Lokeni Su’a whom I found credible.
“Constable Lokeni was present and was clear that he did not hear the accused being advised of his rights by Corporal Ieremia.”
In his view, Justice Roma said the accused was already a suspect when he confirmed to Corporal Ieremia at Alafua that he was the driver.
But Corporal Ieremia had decided that the accused would be charged when they arrived at the Police station.
“However, instead of cautioning the accused, he deliberately interviewed him with the aim of obtaining a confession,” he said.
“I find on the balance of probabilities that the evidence was obtained in consequence of a breach of the accused’s rights and therefore obtained improperly.”
The Justice of the Supreme Court also emphasised the importance of the rights of an accused as guaranteed under the Constitution and that Police have a duty to ensure they are observed at all times and to a higher standard.
“It is necessary [to] ensuring an effective and credible system of justice,” he said.
“In this case, these rights were not only breached by Police, they were done so deliberately and in bad faith.
“The accused was facing a charge involving the death of the victim and the duty of Police to inform him of his rights was no less significant.
“For those reasons, I also find that the exclusion of the evidence of the accused’s admission to Corporal Ieremia Su’a on 2 July 2018 is proportionate to the impropriety.”
Justice Roma then ordered the evidence excluded from the trial.