Stephen Knight obtains quashing of conviction in the Court of Appeal

5 Feb 2020

The Court of Appeal has quashed the conviction of a man found guilty of possession with intent to supply heroin and possession of criminal property.

The Appellant was living in a hostel when the police executed a search warrant and found heroin and cash among his belongings. There was a subsequent delay of three years before trial. The prosecution case was that the cash came from the sale of drugs, and that the Appellant intended to supply the heroin for profit. He was interviewed under caution twice by police, during which he admitted to possession of the drugs but denied any intent to supply. He claimed that he had never supplied drugs and stated that they were for personal use. He maintained this defence throughout the course of proceedings.

Seven years before the allegations in this case, the Appellant had pleaded guilty to attempting to supply heroin to an associate who was in police custody. The previous conviction was adduced in the trial in this case firstly to correct a false impression given by the Appellant in police interview, and secondly to show that the Appellant had a propensity to commit offences of the kind charged.

On appeal, Stephen Knight argued that the trial judge erred in law in admitting into evidence the previous conviction of the Appellant, which had rendered the conviction unsafe. A false impression had not been created in the interview, particularly given that the answers provided by the Appellant were in response to questions concerning allegations of low-level supply of heroin for profit. These circumstances were far removed from the facts of the previous conviction. Concerns over any false impression made by the Appellant could have been mitigated by editing the police interviews, which were already heavily edited in any event. The previous offence did not go to propensity due to the time which had elapsed, and the different circumstances of the offending.

A further ground of appeal was advanced that the trial judge had misdirected the jury to draw an adverse inference against the Appellant relating to his answering “no comment” to some questions in interview. The Appellant had not sought at trial to rely on anything which he did not mention when questioned in interview.

The Court of Appeal ruled that evidence of the Appellant’s bad character had been wrongly admitted. There was no good reason why the interview could not be edited to correct any false impression, and the circumstances of the previous offending were markedly different to the present case. The prosecution’s case at trial was circumstantial and the evidence of the previous conviction may have been prejudicial to the Appellant. The Court additionally ruled that the trial judge had misdirected the jury on adverse inferences arising from the Appellant’s decision to answer “no comment” to some questions in interview. Together with the wrongful admission of the previous conviction, this had “tipped the balance”, and the conviction was unsafe. The appeal was allowed, and the conviction quashed. No retrial was ordered.

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