Supreme Court – February 27th, 2015
Legalpedia Electronic Citation: LER SC/241/2013
Areas of Law:
CRIMINAL LAW & PROCEDURE, LAW OF EVIDENCE, APPEAL, PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE
Summary of Facts:
The Appellant as the second accused person was charged alongside one Kabiru Mohammad (the first accused) at the High Court of Kaduna State with the offences of conspiracy under section 97 and Culpable Homicide punishable with death under 221 of the Penal Code. They pleaded not guilty to the charge. The trial court discharged and acquitted both accused persons on the count of conspiracy and discharged and acquitted the second accused person on the count of Culpable Homicide punishable with death. The Appellant was however found guilty on the count of culpable homicide punishable with death and convicted and consequently sentenced to death. Aggrieved by the outcome of the trial, the Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division where his appeal was dismissed, hence this instant appeal to the Supreme Court.
Issue for Determination
- Whether or not the lower court’s decision to affirm the trial court’s conviction of the appellant for culpable homicide was right having regard to the circumstantial evidence available and the appellant’s confessional statement?
REVIEW OF THE CONCURRENT FINDINGS OF A LOWER COURT – CONDITIONS AN APPELLANT MUST FULFILL IN ORDER TO WARRANT THE APPELLATE COURT ALTER THE CONCURRENT FINDINGS OF FACTS OF THE LOWER COURTS.
“As it is well-known, this court will not disturb concurrent findings of fact of lower courts unless the appellant is able to fulfill the following pre-conditions: establish a substantial error apparent on the face of the record of proceedings; show that such findings of fact were perverse; the said findings were unsupported by the evidence before the trial court; that the findings and conclusion were arrived at as a result of a wrong approach to the evidence or a wrong application of the principles of substantive law or procedure, Enang v Adu  11-12 SC 25, 42; Nwadike v Ibekwe
4 NWLR (pt. 67) 718; Igwego v Ezeugo  6 NWLR (pt. 249) 561, 576; Lamai v Orbih  5-7 SC 28; Woluchem v Gudi  5 SC 291, 326; Ike v Ugboaja 
6 NWLR (pt. 301) 539, 569; Chinwendu v Mbamali  3-4 SC 31 and so on.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
RETRACTION OF A CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT – A RETRACTION OF A CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT DOES NOT AFFECT ITS ADMISSIBILITY
“A retraction or denial of a confessional statement [as the appellant did during his defence at the trial court] does not affect its admissibility. This has long been settled in the very old cases of R. v Sapele and Anor (1952) 2 FSC 74;(1961) All NLR 462; the relatively old decisions of Ikpasa v The State 
9 SC 7; Akpan v State (1992) LPELR -381 (SC) 36; Osakwe v State  2 SCNJ 57; Nwangbonu v The State 
2 NWLR (pt 327) 380; Bature v State  1 NWLR (pt 320) 267; Eragna and Ors v The AG, Bendel (1994) LPELR -(SC) 30; Idowu v State  11 NWLR (pt 574) 354; as well as the more recent decisions of Silas Sule v State (2009) LPELR -3125 (SC) 28-30, G-B; FRN v Iweka (2011) LPELR -9350 (SCO 53; Oseni v The State (2012) LPELR -7833 (SC) 22-23”. PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
EXCULPATORY DEFENCES IN CRIMINAL TRIAL – ANEXCULPATORY DEFENCE IS ONE WHICH IF PROVED, TOTALLY EXONERATES THE ACCUSED PERSON, AND THE DEFENCE OF ALIBI IS ONE OF SUCH DEFENCES.
“The defence of alibi falls into the genre known as exculpatory defences, Ebre v State  12 NWLR (pt 729) 617, 636; others include: self defence, Uwaekweghinya v The State 
9 NWLR (pt 930) 227 and accident, Bakare v State  NSCC 267. They are exculpatory defences because where they are established in a criminal trial, they exonerate the accused person, Uwaekweghinya v The State (supra) 287 C-D.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
DEFENCE OF ALIBI –FAILURE TO INVESTIGATE THE DEFENCE OF ALIBI WILL RESULT IN AN ACQUITTAL OF THE ACCUSED PERSON.
“Failure to investigate the defence of alibi raised in such circumstance will lead to an acquittal, Yanor v The State (1965)
ANLR (Reprint) 199; Bello v. Police  SCNLR 113; Oduand Anr v The State  5 SCNJ 115, 120;  10 NWLR (pt.772) 668.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
DEFENCE OF ALIBI – WHERE THE DEFENCE OF ALIBI CONSIST OF IMMATERIAL AND VAGUE FACTS, THE POLICE IS NOT DUTY BOUND TO INVESTIGATE SAME.
“In effect, where a defence of alibi consists of vague accounts which are devoid of material facts worthy of investigation, the Police, in the circumstance, would least be expected to embark on a wild goose chase, Ebre v The State
(supra) at 636.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE – CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE BEING THE BEST EVIDENCE IS THE EVIDENCE SURROUNDING THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH IS CAPABLE OF LEADING TO THE CONCLUSION THAT THE ACCUSED PERSON COMMITTED THE CRIME.
“The category of evidence known as circumstantial evidence, which is, more often than not, the best evidence, Obosi v State (1965
) NMLR 119; Ukorah v State  4 SC 167; Lori v State (1980) NSCC 269; Onah v State  3 NWLR (pt 12) 236; Ebenehi v State  All FWLR (pt 486) 1825, 1832-1833; Ijiofor v State  9 NWLR (pt 718) 371, 385, is the evidence of surrounding circumstances which, by undersigned coincidence, is capable of proving a proposition with the accuracy of mathematics, Ijiofor v State (supra) 385. This is so for, in their aggregate content, such circumstances lead cogently, strongly and unequivocally to the conclusion that the act, conduct or omission of the accused person caused the death of the deceased person, Idiok v State 
All FWLR (pt 421) 797, 818.”PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE – WHERE THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH FORM AN UNBROKEN CHAIN OF EVIDENCE IS ESTABLISHED BEFORE THE COURT, SUCH CAN BE ACTED UPON BY THE COURT.
“There are circumstances which are accepted so as to make a complete and unbroken chain of evidence, Omotola and Ors v State 
7 NWLR (pt 1139) 148, 178; (2009) LPELR -2663 (SC) 42-43. Where such circumstances are established to the satisfaction of the court, they may be properly acted upon, Wills on Circumstantial Evidence [Seventh edition] 324; A. Okekeifere, Circumstantial Evidence in Nigerian Law (Port Harcourt: Law-house Books, 2000) 1; Omotola v State
(supra) 178.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE – A CONVICTION CAN BE BASED ON CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE WHERE IT POINTS TO ONE CONCLUSION THAT THE OFFENCE HAD BEEN COMMITTED BY THE ACCUSED PERSON.
“Where there is no eye witness account or direct evidence of the commission of an offence, a conviction may be based on circumstantial evidence, Igbale v State  15 NWLR (pt 896) 314. However, such circumstantial evidence must point to only one conclusion, namely, that the offence had been committed and that it was the accused person who committed It, Dick v C O P. 
9 NWLR (pt 1147) 530, 551.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
INFERENCE OF GUILT FROM CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE – FOR AN INFERENCE OF GUILT TO BE PROPERLY DRAWN FROM CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE, THERE MUST BE NO SURROUNDING CIRCUMSTANCE WHICH WOULD ADVERSELY AFFECT THE INFERENCE OF GUILT.
“For the purpose of drawing an inference of an accused person’s guilt from circumstantial evidence, there must not be other co-existing circumstances which would weaken or destroy the inference, Igho v State  3 SC 87: State v Edobor  9-11 SC 69. Thus, all other factors and surrounding circumstances must be carefully considered for they may be enough to adversely affect the inference of guilt, Lori v State  8-11 SC 81;Udedibia v State 
11 SC 133; Aigbadion v State  7 NWLR (pt 666) 686.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
CONVICTION OF AN ACCUSED PERSON BASED ON CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE – THE COURT IS ENJOINED TO PROPERLY EVALUATE THE CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE ADDUCED BY THE PROSECUTION BEFORE CONVICTING ON SAME.
“A court must, properly, appraise the circumstantial evidence adduced by the Prosecution before convicting an accused person thereon, Adepelu v State 
9 NWLR (pt 565) 185; Iko v State  FWLR (pt 68) 1161;  14 NWLR (pt 732) 221; Orji v State 
All FWLR (pt 422) 1093, 1107.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
CONVICTION BASED ON CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE – FOR A CONVICTION TO BE BASED ON CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE, THE EVIDENCE MUST LEAVE NO DOUBT THAT THE ACCUSED PERSON IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE COMMISSION OF THE OFFENCE.
“It must be noted that there is no yardstick by which any circumstantial evidence can be measured before a conviction can be entered against an accused person. Thus, each case depends on its own facts. However, one test which such evidence must satisfy is that it should lead to the guilt of the accused person and leave no degree to possibility or chance that other persons could have been responsible for the commission of the offence, Ijiofor v State (supra) 385; Ebenehi v State (supra) 1832.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
THE LAST SEEN DOCTRINE – THE LAST SEEN DOCTRINE AS APPLIED IN HOMICIDE CASES IS TO THE EFFECT THAT THE PERSON LAST SEEN WITH THE DECEASED IS RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS OR HER DEATH.
“The last seen doctrine, a doctrine of global application, Madu v The State (2012)
LPELR -7867 (SC) 51-52;  15 NWLR (pt 1324) 405;  6 SCNJ 129;  6 SC (pt 1) 50;  50 NSCQR 67, also, referred to as “the last seen theory,” Rajashkhanna v State of A.P (2006) 10 SCC 172, is applied in homicide cases in Nigeria, Rabi Ismail v The State 
MJSC 20, 77. It creates a rebuttable presumption to the effect that the person last seen with a deceased person bears full responsibility for his or her death, Jua v The State  2 MJSC 152, 186 -187.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
THE LAST SEEN DOCTRINE – THE LAST SEEN DOCTRINE POSTULATES THAT WHERE A PERSON WITH WHOM THE DECEASED WAS LAST SEEN CANNOT GIVE AN EXPLANATION AS TO THE DEATH OF THE DECEASED, THE COURT IS JUSTIFIED TO DRAW THE NECESSARY INFERENCE THAT SUCH A PERSON IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEATH OF THE DECEASED.
“Where an accused person was the last person to be seen in the company of the deceased person, he has a duty to give an explanation relating to how the latter met his or her death. In the absence of such an explanation, a trial court and even an appellate court will be justified in drawing the inference that he [the accused person] killed the deceased person,Igabele v State 
6 NWLR (pt.975)100; Obosi v State (1965) NMLR 140; Nwaeze v The State  2 SCNJ 47, 61- 62; Gabriel v. State  3 NWLR (pt.122) 457; Aden/jiv. State (2001) 87 LRCN 1970; Maduv The State (supra); Ighov The State [1978
] 3 SC 87, 254;  3 SC 61, 63.” PER C. C. NWEZE, J.S.C.
CONFESSIONAL STATEMENTS – WHERE A CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT IS DIRECT AND UNAMBIGUOUS, IT CAN GROUND A CONVICTION.
“Confessional statements alone are sufficient to ground a conviction if such confession is direct and unambiguous admission of the ingredients of the offence. I rely on Akoa v State (2008)
14 NWLR (Pt. 1106); Achabua v State (1976) 12 SC 63 and Onuoha v State (1987) 4 NWLR (Pt. 65) 331.” PER M. U. PETER-ODILI, J.S.C.
ADMISSIONS IN CONFESSIONAL STATEMENTS – TESTS WHICH ADMISSIONS IN A CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT MUST PASS BEFORE A COURT CAN SAFELY CONVICT ON IT
“Admissions in a confessional statement need be subjected to some tests which if passed would impel the Court to act upon the confession alone to effect a Conviction. These tests are:-
i) Whether there is anything outside the confession which shows that it may be true;
ii) Whether it is corroborated in any way;
iii) Whether the relevant statements of facts made in it are mostly true as far as they can be tested;
iv) Whether the defendant had the opportunity of committing the offence;
v) Whether the confession is possible; and
vi) Whether the alleged confession is consistent with other facts that have been ascertained and established.” PER M. U. PETER-ODILI, J.S.C.
CONVICTION ON CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE – CONVICTION OF AN ACCUSED PERSON CAN BE BASED ON CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE WHERE SUCH EVIDENCE POINTS TO NO OTHER CONCLUSION THAN THE GUILT OF THE ACCUSED PERSON
“A conviction of an accused person can be based on circumstantial evidence where such evidence is cogent, compelling and points to no other conclusion than the guilt of the accused person. I place reliance on Akinbisade v State (2006)
17 NWLR (Pt. 1007) P.184; Ahmed v State (2001) 18 NWLR (Pt. 746) 622” PER M. U. PETER-ODILI, J.S.C.
PROOF OF THE OFFENCE OF CULPABLE HOMICIDE PUNISHABLE WITH DEATH – INGREDIENTS THE PROSECUTION MUST ESTABLISH TO SUCCEED IN PROVING THE OFFENCE OF CULPABLE HOMICIDE PUNISHABLE WITH DEATH,
“The three ingredients which the law expected the prosecution to establish to prove the charge of culpable homicide are – (a) that the deceased actually died; (b) that the death was caused by the accused, (c) that the accused intended to either kill the victim or cause grievous bodily harm.” PER O. ARIWOOLA,J.S.C.
BURDEN OF PROOF IN CASES OF CULPABLE HOMICIDE PUNISHABLE WITH DEATH – THE BURDEN OF PROVING THAT THE ACT OR OMISSION OF THE ACCUSED PERSON COMPLAINED OF ACTUALLY CAUSED THE DEATH OF THE DECEASED IS ON THE PROSECUTION.
“The law squarely placed the duty on the prosecution to establish the death of the victim, as the responsibility of the accused by act or omission and the intentional act or omission of the accused with the clear knowledge that the act or omission could cause grievous bodily harm or death. Indeed, the prosecution must prove that the act or omission of the accused complained of actually caused the death but not that it could have caused death. See; SabinaChikaodi Madu Vs The State (2012)
15 NWLR (Pt.1324) 405; (2012) 50 NSCQR 67; (2012) 6 SC (Pt.l) 80; (2012) All FWLR (Pt.64) 1416; (2012) 6 SCNJ 129 Durwode Vs. State (2000)
15 NWLR (Pt.691) 467; Akpan Vs. State (2000) 12 NWLR (Py.682) 607.” PER O. ARIWOOLA, J.S.C.
ADMISSIBILITY OF A CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT – A CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT IS ADMISSIBLE IF IT IS DIRECT AND STATES THAT THE ACCUSED PERSON COMMITTED THE CRIME CHARGED.
“A confessional statement is admissible if it is direct and positive and relates to the maker’s acts, knowledge or intention, stating or suggesting the inference that he committed the crime charged.” PER J. I. OKORO, J.S.C.
VOLUNTARY CONFESSION – A CONSISTENT VOLUNTARY CONFESSION IS USUALLY SATISFACTORY EVIDENCE TO BASE A CONVICTION.
“A voluntary confession of guilt, if fully consistent and probable, and is coupled with a clear proof that a crime has been committed by some persons is usually accepted as satisfactory evidence on which the court can convict. See Ogoala V. The State (1991)
2 NWLR (pt. 175) 509.” PER J. I. OKORO, J.S.C.
RETRACTION OF CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT OF AN ACCUSED PERSON – WHERE AN ACCUSED RETRACTS HIS CONFESSIONAL STATEMENT EARLIER MADE, HE IS DUTY BOUND TO EXPLAIN TO THE COURT THE REASON FOR THE INCONSISTENCY
“It is trite that if an accused person resiles from his confessional statement; it is his duty to explain to the court as part of his defence the reason for the inconsistency.” PER J. I. OKORO, J.S.C.
CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE – THE CIRCUMSTANCES LEADING TO CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE MUST UNEQUIVOCALLY POINT TO THE FACT THAT A CRIME WAS COMMITTED AND THE CRIME WAS COMMITTED BY THE ACCUSED PERSON.
“Our law on circumstantial evidence is well settled. The circumstances put together which are to be relied upon should point unequivocally, positively, unmistakenly and irresistibly to the fact that the offence was committed and that accused person committed the offence. See Yongo V. Commissioner of Police (1992)
4 SCNJ. 113, Abieke V. The State (1995) 9 -11 SC 97.” PER J. I. OKORO, J.S.C.
Statutes Referred To
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