December 4, 2023

Nwode v. State: Legal Representation in Criminal Trials- An Allegation that Defence Counsel in Murder Trial is a Youth Corper and inexperienced-Whether valid ground for Setting Aside Conviction

Nwode v. State: Legal representation in criminal trials- An allegation that defence counsel in murder trial is a Youth Corper and inexperienced-Whether valid ground for setting aside conviction. An insight into the Supreme Court laudable decision therein.

Citation: [2019]16 NWLR PT.1697 PG. 29.

Courtsey: Moruff O. Balogun Esq.

Summary of facts

The appellant was a close neighbor of an eleven-year old Chibogo ljekebe’s parents. On 5th May 2013, at about 3.00 am, he entered into the room where Chibogo ljekebe (deceased) was sleeping with his mother and killed the deceased by cutting his throat with a machete. The mother of the deceased, who was awake, quickly raised an alarm, shouting that Nwibo had killed her son. The father of the deceased came out of his room and went to the room where his son and his mother were sleeping and found his son in a pool of his blood. He also saw the appellant attempting to run away. His wife, still shouting, held the appellant, and the villagers who were attracted by the shout came to the scene and helped in arresting the appellant. The father and the mother of the deceased took the appellant to the village head, who directed them to report the incidence to the police. They accordingly reported the incidence at the police station at Okpoduma Igbagu Izzi. The matter was subsequently transferred to the criminal investigation department, Abakaliki.

The appellant was arraigned at the High Court of Ebonyi State for the murder of Chibogo Ijekebe under section 319 (1) of the Criminal Code, Cap. 33, Vol. 11, Laws of Eastern Nigeria, 1963, applicable to Ebonyi State.

The appellant made two extra-judicial statements which were tendered in evidence at the trial, and admitted as exhibits E and F. He admitted that he killed the deceased because of the previous quarrel he had with PW1, the father of the deceased, over the harvest of five bamboo trees by PW1 from his farm and the arrest of his goats by PWI on the ground that the goats ate his crops. It was further admitted that since that quarrel with PW1, he had been having mental problem.

At the trial, the appellant denied killing the deceased. He also raised the defence of insanity, without more.

At the conclusion of trial, the court found the appellant guilty as charged, convicted him and sentenced him to death by hanging. Dissatisfied, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal but his appeal was dismissed. He further appealed to the Supreme Court.

Held: Unanimously dismissing the appeal.

The Supreme Court raised and considered the following issues:

On Whether caliber of defence counsel a ground for setting aside conviction for murder –

The caliber of counsel that defended the accused, whether experienced or not, has never been a ground to set aside conviction for murder. In the instant case; the appellant’s contention that he was defended at the trial court by a young counsel who was undergoing his National Youth Service and therefore had no sufficient experience to call evidence of the appellant’s insanity was rejected as untenable in law.

On Whether mere evidence of mental disorder is a sufficient proof of insanity –

Evidence of insanity tendered by an accused himself is suspect and is not usually taken seriously.
Mere evidence that an accused person had mental disorder without showing that the disorder deprived him of the capacity to understand what he was doing and to know that he ought not to have done the act which is called in question is not satisfactory evidence of defence of insanity. In the instant case, the fact that the appellant attempted to run away was an indication that he was fully aware of the consequences of his act. Also the only evidence of insanity was from the appellant; even though there was evidence that he had two wives and that he was living as neighbor to people. None of his wives and neighbors were called to give evidence of his usual behavior.

On Ways of proving insanity-

Where the defence of insanity is raised, the defence must present before the court proof which could include, among others –
positive acts of the accused person before and after the deed complained of;
evidence of a doctor who examined and watched the accused over a period of time as to his mental state;
evidence of relations who knew the accused intimately regarding his behavior and the change which had come upon him;
the medical history of the family which could indicate hereditary mental affliction or abnormality;
evidence from prison warders who had custody of the accused and looked after him during his trial;
the reputation which the accused enjoyed for sanity or insanity in his neighborhood; and
such other facts and circumstances which would help a trial court come to the conclusion that the burden of proof of insanity placed by law on the defence has been discharged.

Moruff O. Balogun Esq.
Ijebu Ode, Ogun State.

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