DPP challenges Nyangasi Supreme Court appeal
What you need to know:
- Nyangasi’s appeal to the Supreme Court was based on three grounds; that the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law and in fact when they held that the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that he had participated in causing the death of his wife
The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) put up a strong defence when Dalton Apollo Nyangasi challenged the ruling of the Court of Appeal that sustained his conviction for the murder of his wife. The Court, however, reduced the life sentence given to him to 25 years imprisonment. He had been tried by the High Court of Uganda and found guilty of the murder of his wife Christine Dambio Nyangasi.
Nyangasi’s appeal to the Supreme Court was based on three grounds; that the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law and in fact when they held that the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that he had participated in causing the death of his wife. He was also dissatisfied that the Court of Appeal disregarded his defence of alibi as well as the sentence of imprisonment of up to 25 years that he deemed illegal, manifestly harsh and excessive in the circumstances of the case.
Nyangasi’s lawyer attempted to smuggle in a fourth ground of appeal by way of an amended Memorandum of Appeal after the Directorate of Public Prosecutions filed its submissions to the initial three grounds of appeal.
The Supreme Court dismissed and disregarded the amended memorandum as it was submitted without leave of court. It was struck off for not conforming to the rules of the court. The particular rule of Supreme Court on this is clear; “The appellant may at any time, with leave of Court, lodge a supplementary memorandum of appeal”. To the court no leave was sought and, therefore, no leave was given to file an amended memorandum of appeal. Court proceeded with the original three grounds of appeal.
At the pre-hearing of the case on September 14, 2021, the parties were given the following schedule; Nyangasi’s lawyer was to file and serve written submissions by 21st September 2021. The DPP was to file a reply to the written submissions a week later, that is, by September 28, 2021. A rejoinder, if any, was to be filed by October 1, 2021. However, to the court, it was very clear that Nyangasi’s lawyer completely ignored the timelines and acted as if there were no timelines issued by court. That impunity culminated in the audacity to file an amended Memorandum of Appeal even beyond the timelines for submission of the rejoinder.
Mistakes by lawyers
It being trite in law that the mistakes of lawyers should not be vested on their clients, court went ahead to consider the submissions of the lawyer based on the original Memorandum of Appeal filed.
Nyangasi’s lawyer and the DPP agreed to merge grounds 1 and 2 into one ground and the main issue was whether the Court of Appeal was right to hold that the trial judge acted within the law to rely on the evidence of two key witnesses who saw the events unfold on that morning Christine died and, as a result, reject the alibi put up by Nyangasi.
One of the witnesses told court she heard Nyangasi threatening his wife in the following words “By midday you stupid woman would be dead. Nobody messes with me and goes unpunished”. The DPP invited the Supreme Court to find that threats, such as these, when executed as promised within such a short span of time, and evidence is adduced to that effect, which is not challenged by the defence, become relevant and admissible evidence. The DPP also pointed out to the fact that Nyangasi was not bothered and did not give a helping hand when his wife was being taken to hospital.
The law on alibi is clear; “Where Prosecution has adduced evidence showing that the accused was at the scene of crime and the defence not only denies it but adduces evidence showing that the accused person was elsewhere, it is incumbent on the trial court to evaluate both versions judiciously and give reasons why one and not the other version is accepted. The Justices pointed to the evidence of one of the key witnesses; the first witness at the scene of crime. She told court that she heard a scream from the washroom which eventually faded away. She rushed to the washroom and found Christine lying down and Nyangasi strangling her and Christine was struggling to free her neck from Nyangasi’s hands. This evidence was independently corroborated by a second witness who stated that she saw Christine go to the washroom and was followed by Nyangasi. The witness told the trial court that she found Christine on the floor with eyes wide open and when she confronted Nyangasi he is quoted to have uttered the words “no one messes with me and goes unpunished”.
At the postmortem examination Christine was found to have died of acute heart failure attributed to a sudden neurological event and pressure on the neck was mentioned as one such event. However no injuries were found in her neck.
To the DPP the Justices correctly concluded that the washroom and its vicinity constituted the scene of crime where Nyangasi was well placed. The DPP contended that the Justices of the Court of Appeal properly analysed the alibi and found that Nyangasi was indeed present at the scene of crime.
The law is that an offender who is not at the crime scene cannot commit the particular crime complained of at that scene of crime.
The Supreme Court in a previous case had ruled that even if, on the whole, some of the defence evidence was not seriously considered, no injustice was caused since the general denial by the accused person had been disproved. Nyangasi did not provide any other independent evidence that he was elsewhere that morning; he told court that he was in the drug shop trying to catch an early customer.