ABU DHABI // Confession to police and prosecutors is not enough to convict a defendant, especially in cases of capital punishment, the Federal Supreme Court has ruled. The ruling in the case of two Bangladeshis who were charged with the murder of an elderly Emirati man, sets a legal precedent obliging judges to rely less on a defendant's confession to police or public prosecutors, according to the presiding judges, particularly if it contradicts forensic evidence.
A judge should not issue a conviction unless there is sufficient evidence supported by several facts, according to court documents issued yesterday. The precedent, according to Justice Ahmed Abdulhameed, one of the judges, abrogated the old adage that "confession is the best evidence". Rulings issued by the Supreme Court are binding and local judges should follow them if the case is similar. The Court also ruled a judge's collection of evidence that could have previously formulated their judgement should be discarded if any of them proved to be wrong.
On March 29, 2006, Sharjah prosecutors charged SA and AD, from Bangladesh, with premeditated murder after they allegedly kidnapped an elderly Emirati man, identified as RK, and threw him into a manhole with the intent to kill him. The Sharjah Criminal Court issued a unanimous ruling convicting SA of murder and sentenced him to death. AD was acquitted. Prosecutors appealed against AD's acquittal.
The Sharjah Court of Appeals upheld the verdicts. Both SA and prosecutors then appealed at the Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. SA argued that the court convicted him relying solely on his confessions to police. He said the confession was taken under duress. In his confession, he said the other defendant was also involved in killing the elderly man. He said their job was to look after the man, who was sick. He told prosecutors he was bored with serving him and he conspired with the other defendant to throw him in a manhole behind the victim's house. "He is always dirty and we changed his underwear all the time. We got bored and we wanted to get rid of him," SA was cited as telling prosecutors.
But the victim, according to forensic tests, died of suffocation which led to cardiac arrest. The death, according to the tests, was caused by placing pressure on the neck using a "solid object such as hands or the like". The lingual bone was also broken, which happened at the time of his death. "Based on this, the victim died of suffocation before he was thrown in the manhole," wrote Chief Justice al Hajeri.
Judges presiding on the case at the Supreme Court said that the lower courts committed a "grave error" by ignoring a conflict between the defendants' confessions to police and the forensic report. Forensic tests showed the victim died in his bed of suffocation rather than drowning in a manhole. It was not known who suffocated the man in his bed before the two men allegedly threw him in the manhole. The Supreme Court ordered a new investigation into the case before returning the case to the Sharjah Court of Appeals to be tried under a new panel.
"This shows that the defendant's confession to Public Prosecutors was dictated," wrote Chief Justice Falah al Hajeri, who presided on the case. "Because the lower court convicted him based on his confession, its verdict is erroneous and so it should be rejected." Justice Abdulhameed said in a recent interview: "Particularly in cases of capital punishment, a judge should be absolutely sure before convicting a defendant. If there is any doubt, the judge should either look for new evidence or acquit the defendant."
He said a judge should have "absolutely unequivocal evidence" when convicting a defendant, while this does not have to be the case in acquittal. When there is anything that would cast doubt into the presented evidence, however minor, then the judge should reconsider his or her judgment, he said. @Email:email@example.com