THE Court of Appeal has overturned the 12-year prison sentence of a man who was accused of raping a woman in 2015, after he argued his conviction was unsafe since the trial judge failed to give the jury a good character direction.
Josue Celestin was accused of raping a woman on November 9, 2015. At the time, the woman alleged Celestin forced her to perform a sex act on him while he assaulted her. She also claimed Celestin was armed with a screwdriver.
However he claimed during the trial that the sex acts were consensual, adding he and the complainant had an agreement he would pay her $50 in return. He claimed the woman made the rape claim because he did not pay her the agreed sum.
Celestin was convicted of rape on October 11, 2018 and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment on March 28, 2019. He appealed his conviction on the grounds that a good character direction was necessary to help the jury evaluate his testimony as it related to his “credibility and propensity to do the things complained of in the charge”.
Yesterday, Justices Sir Michael Barnett and Maureen Crane-Scott quashed Celestin’s conviction after ruling that he was “entitled to the benefit of a good character direction.”
However, there was a dissenting view on the panel. Justice Roy Jones disagreed with his colleagues and said the sentence and conviction should be upheld.
According to the judgment Celestin and his wife shared a home with the victim.
“(The woman) alleged that on November 9, 2015, while the appellant’s wife was not at home, the appellant entered her bedroom, armed with a screwdriver and forced her to perform oral sex on him,” the court documents read.
The complainant said she was forced to perform other acts without her consent. Following the incident, she informed a male friend who confronted the appellant. Once the matter was reported to the police, the appellant was arrested and charged with the offence of rape.
The court added: “The appellant’s defence was that all acts were consensual, and he denied possessing a screwdriver during the incident. He testified that he and the virtual complainant had an agreement that he would pay her $50 to engage in these acts and it was only once he indicated that he did not have the $50 was the matter reported to (the male friend) who, he says, beat him up for not paying for the sex as agreed. The appellant asserted that (the woman) was a prostitute who performs sexual acts for money as a means of earning a living.”
In the judgment, Sir Michael Barnett said the trial judge erred when he failed to give Celestin the benefit of a good character direction. He also noted that the failure had an impact on “the safety of the verdict.”
“Although defence counsel did not himself raise the issue of a good character direction, it was clear to the prosecution that the evidence led was sufficient to draw the inference that the appellant had placed his character in issue and was entitled to the benefit of a character direction both as to credibility as well as propensity,” he noted.
Sir Michael Barnett also said that a judge has an “obligation to ensure that an accused person receives a fair trial.” He also argued that a judge has a duty “to satisfy himself as to the appropriateness of a good character direction when the character and credibility of an accused is raised in the trial.”
“In my judgment in any case where the character or credibility of an accused may be in issue, the trial judge is obliged at some stage prior to giving the directions to the jury to inquire whether an accused has antecedents and a good character direction is appropriate. This, in my judgment, is part of his duty to ensure a fair trial of the person appearing before him. This inquiry can be made at the case management stage or at any stage during the trial in the absence of the jury. This is a duty independent of the duty of the defence counsel to raise it on behalf of his client,” he stated.
“...I accept that a failure to give a good character direction does not automatically make a conviction unsafe, but given the facts of this case where it turned on the credulity of (the complainant) and the appellant, I am satisfied that a fair trial required the judge to assist the jury in considering the evidence. The judge was, in my view, required to give the jury the direction that the appellant’s good character may support his credibility and so is something which the jury should take into account when deciding whether they believe his evidence; and that it may mean that he is less likely than otherwise might be the case to have committed the offence with which he is charged.”
In her opinion, Justice Crane-Scott said “a misdirection of law occurred” since Celstin was not given the benefit of a direction which he was entitled to by law.
“This was a sexual case which undoubtedly involved the classic ‘clash of credibility’ between the respective cases for the prosecution and the defence, in the sense that the jury had to decide whether they believed the rape allegations of the virtual complainant or whether the sworn testimony of the appellant, denying the rape, might be true. In those circumstances, this was a case where the need for a good character direction was particularly ‘acute,’” she noted.
The court said parties involved should make written submissions on the issue of retrial by June 17.