Christopher V. State (2022)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
ADAMU JAURO, J.S.C.
This appeal is against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Abuja Judicial Division wherein the Court dismissed the Appellant’s appeal against the judgment of the High Court of Niger State which found the Appellant guilty of culpable homicide punishable with death under Section 221 of the Penal Code.
BRIEF STATEMENT OF FACTS
The lone count upon which the Appellant was tried and convicted at the trial Court is as follows:
“That you Friday Christopher, on or about the 7th day of September, 2013 in Korokpa village via Chanchaga within Minna Judicial Division committed the offence of Culpable Homicide punishable with death to wit: while Charity Emmanuel and Miracle Emmanuel were sleeping in the room at Korokpa village via Chanchaga LGA of Niger State, you Friday Christopher carried Miracle Emmanuel out of the bedroom to parlour and strangled her with your hand which you knew death would be the probable and not only a likely consequence of the act and you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 221 of the Penal Code.”
In a bid to prove the charge, the Respondent called two witnesses and tendered the Appellant’s confessional statements as exhibits A and B. The Appellant on his part, called four witnesses, including himself and tendered no exhibit.
The case of the prosecution was that on 6th September, 2013, one Charity Emmanuel, the Appellant’s aunt came with an 18 months old baby Miracle Emmanuel from Kaduna to visit the Appellant’s mother, Monicah Christopher in Minna, Niger State at her home where the Appellant also resides. On the first night she spent with them, the deceased, Miracle Emmanuel was crying throughout the night and this prevented them from sleeping. The following day, in the night, the Appellant took the baby from the room where she was and strangled her to death. It was the Respondent’s case that the Appellant left the house after committing the offence and was found in a nearby bush.
The Appellant on his part denied committing the offence. His case was that he was with DW2 on 7th September, 2013 to dig a soakaway pit and that DW2 left when the person who asked them to dig the pit did not show up, but he stayed behind. The Appellant stated further that he was at the place where they were to dig the soak away pit when the police came to arrest him.
At the conclusion of trial and after the adoption of final addresses, the learned trial Judge delivered a considered judgment wherein he found the Appellant guilty and sentenced him accordingly. Aggrieved by the judgment of the trial Court, the Appellant appealed to the lower Court, albeit unsuccessfully.
Dissatisfied by the decision of the lower Court which affirmed his conviction and sentence, the Appellant now seeks, by this appeal to exhaust his fight of appeal. The Appellant identified three grounds of appeal in his Notice of Appeal by which the appellate jurisdiction of this Court was triggered.
In line with the rules and practice of this Court, parties filed and exchanged their respective briefs adopted at the hearing of this Court on 20th January, 2022.
MR. PHILLIP K. EMMANUEL, ESQ. on behalf of the Appellant distilled two issues for the determination of the appeal in the Appellant’s brief of argument dated and filed on 14th August, 2019. The said issues are hereunder reproduced as follows:
“1. Whether on all the established facts in this case, the proper verdict which ought to have been returned by the Court of Appeal against the Appellant was not one of discharge and acquittal and a further order for medical examination of his mental state of health. (Distilled from ground 1 of the Notice of Appeal).
- Whether by the tenor of Appellant’s extra-judicial statements embodied in exhibits “A” and “B”, and the defence of insanity was raised which needed thorough consideration by the trial Court and if in the affirmative, whether the failure to so consider has prejudiced the Appellant and consequently led to a miscarriage of justice. (Distilled from grounds 2 and 3 of the Notice of Appeal).”
On behalf of the Respondent, M.G. CHIROMA ESQ., Director of Public Prosecutions, Ministry of Justice, Niger State raised a sole issue in the Respondent’s brief of argument dated 14th October, 2019 and filed on 15th October, 2019. The sole issue raised by the Respondent is as follows:
“Whether the prosecution did not prove its case beyond reasonable doubt at the trial Court which convicted the appellant and sentenced him to death to justify the affirmation of the said conviction and the sentence by the Court below?”
ARGUMENTS OF COUNSEL
Both issues distilled by the Appellant’s counsel were argued together. It was submitted that had the trial Court considered Exhibit B properly, it would find that the said exhibit revealed the defence of insanity, even without same being raised by the Appellant. Reliance was placed on AHMED V. STATE (2000) FWLR (PT. 34) 438. That a calm consideration of the exhibit and the circumstances under which it was made would reveal that the trial Court erred by not considering the defence of insanity on behalf of the Appellant. He submitted that PW2 himself admitted that no proper investigation was conducted into the matter and that there was no Superior Police Officer available to countersign Exhibit B, hence the trial Court ought to have discharged and acquitted the Appellant. The case of KADA V. STATE (1991) 8 NWLR (PT. 208) 134 was relied on.
Learned counsel further submitted that, the fact that there was no malice between the Appellant and his aunt who brought the deceased baby or between the Appellant and the deceased is an indication that the Appellant was suffering from mental infirmity to have strangled the deceased. That from the Appellant’s confessional statements and the circumstances under which they were made together with counsel’s interaction with him in prison custody, it is clear that he is suffering from mental infirmity and the Courts below ought to have availed him of the defence of insanity. He urged this Court to exercise its power under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to discharge and acquit the Appellant and order for a medical examination into his mental state. He relied on Section 51 of the Penal Code applicable to Niger State as well as the following cases: KADA V. STATE (1991) 8 NWLR (PT. 208) 134; NWANKWOALA V. STATE (2006) ALL FWLR (PT.339) 801; STATE V. JOHN (2013) 12 NWLR (PT. 1368) 337; OJO V. STATE (1973) NSCC 590; SOKOTO V. THE STATE (1976) NSCC 96; SAKA V. THE STATE (2008) 3 NCC 145; EJINIMA V. THE STATE (1991) 7 SC (PT. 111) 1; PETER V. STATE (1997) 12 NWLR (PT. 531) 1; SANUSI V. THE STATE (1984) 10 SC 166; EDOHO V. STATE (2010) 14 NWLR (PT. 1214) 651.
He finally urged this Court to allow the appeal, set aside the judgment of the Court below, acquit and discharge the Appellant in the overall interest of justice.
In response to the Appellant’s submissions, counsel for the Respondent submitted that the Respondent proved all the ingredients of the offence charged beyond reasonable doubt through the Appellant’s confessional statements Exhibits A and B as well as through circumstantial evidence. That proof beyond reasonable doubt does not mean proof beyond all shadow of doubt. Reference was made to Section 135 of the Evidence Act, 2011 as well as the cases of AJAYI V. STATE (2013) 9 NWLR (PT. 1360) 589; BASSEY V. STATE (2012) 12 NWLR (PT. 1314) 209. He submitted that the Appellant was represented by counsel all through the proceedings at the trial Court but the defence of insanity was not raised, therefore it was not the duty of the trial Court to raise the Defence suo motu. Counsel citedJOHN V. THE STATE (2012) NWLR (PT. 1299) 336 and submitted that every person is presumed to be of sound mind at every time and to be responsible for his acts of omissions. That it is the duty of the Appellant to raise a defence to the charge against him, and once he has done so, it would be the duty of the Court to consider same in its judgment.
Counsel submitted that the Appellant was in a good state of mental health when he committed the offence and that explains why he hid in the bush after committing the act, as an insane person would not have escaped into the bush. It was also submitted that the defence of insanity must be specifically raised, not impliedly. In response to the Appellant’s submission that the Appellant had no motive to kill the deceased, counsel submitted that the Appellant himself said in his confessional statement that he killed the baby because she used to cry in the night and prevent him from sleeping. It was further submitted that the Appellant cannot belatedly raise the defence of insanity in this Court, having not raised same before the lower Courts. Counsel further submitted that none of the Appellant’s witnesses said anything at trial that alluded to his alleged insanity. He noted that the Appellant stated in Exhibit B that he did not regret killing the deceased and that no one in his family behaved abnormally.
He finally urged the Court to dismiss the appeal.
Having considered the arguments canvassed by counsel on either side as well as the issues distilled for determination by them, it is evident that the fulcrum of this appeal is whether the defence of insanity ought to avail the Appellant.
It is elementary to state that the appellate jurisdiction of this Court is provided for under Section 233 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). To ignite the appellate jurisdiction of this Court, an Appellant has to file a notice of appeal containing grounds of appeal challenging the decision of the Court of Appeal.
The grounds of appeal as encapsulated in the Appellant’s notice of appeal must be targeted at the ratio decidendi of the judgment being appealed against. See K.R.K. HOLDINGS (NIG) LTD. V. FBN (2016) LPELR-41463 (SC); GTB V. INNOSON NIGERIA LTD (2017) LPELR-42368 (SC); YUSUF & ANOR V. STATE (2019) LPELR-46945 (SC).
Notwithstanding, there are couple of instances where an Appellant can be allowed to raise grounds of appeal on issues not canvassed and determined in the judgment of the lower Court. Such instances are where the Appellant raises a ground of appeal bordering on jurisdiction and/or where the Appellant seeks the leave of the appellate Court to raise and argue fresh issues on appeal. In the absence of the two instances stipulated above, any ground of appeal must find its source firmly footed in the judgment of the Court being appealed against.
In the instant appeal, the Appellant’s counsel surreptitiously raised the defence of insanity for the first time in this Court. The Appellant’s counsel made noise on the failure of the trial Court to consider the defence of insanity in favour of the Appellant. I should state for the umpteenth time that this Court does not have the jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from the trial Court. See AG ANAMBRA V. AG FEDERATION (2007) LPELR-24343 (SC).
Right from trial, up to the Court below, the Appellant fought restlessly on the defence of alibi. Out of the 5 grounds of appeal in his notice of appeal to the Court below, there was nowhere it was stated that the trial Court ought to consider the defence of insanity in favour of the Appellant. Even though it is trite that a trial Court ought to consider any defence that will otherwise be available to the accused, in the instant case, there was no appeal to the lower Court on the defence of insanity.
The law is trite that a party must be consistent in the presentation of his case. See CHUKWUNYERE V. STATE (2017) LPELR-43725 (SC); AJIDE V. KELANI (1985) LPELR-302 (SC); COMPTROLLER GENERAL OF CUSTOMS & ORS V. GUSAU (2017) LPELR-42081 (SC); SUBERU V. STATE (2010) LPELR-3120 (SC); AGI V. PDP & ORS (2016) LPELR-42578 (SC).
An appeal is a reflective medium for challenging a judicial decision where no party, including the appellate Court is taken by surprise. It is a judicial exercise aimed at dispassionately reviewing all essential points attacked in the judgment being appealed against and not an avenue for an Appellant to bring appalling grounds of appeal to test a palpably ridiculous claim.
The ignorance of the Appellant’s counsel was unequivocally brought to fore in paragraph 4.12 of the Appellant’s brief wherein it was stated as follows:
“Unfortunately, those aspects which ought to have been pleaded before the trial Court as a fact finder were not raised before that Court. Be that as it may, we humbly submit that in order to do substantial justice in this case, this Honourable Court possesses the statutory powers under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act to order for the medical examination of the Appellant in order to ascertain his mental state of health.”
Going by the above submission of the Appellant’s counsel, it is apparent that counsel does not understand the purport of Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act. This Court would be stepping outside its appellate borders by ordering for the medical examination of the Appellant in order to ascertain his mental state of health as urged by the Appellant’s counsel.
In my view, the Appellant is surreptitiously trying to use the institution of this Court to adduce further evidence on appeal. Without further ado, I hold that the Appellant’s issues regarding the defence of insanity which were not raised in the Court below and not borne out of the judgment of the Court are liable to be discountenanced. In the absence of leave to raise fresh issues in this Court, the Appellant is precluded from raising the defence of insanity or any submission relating thereto in his brief of argument.
I ought not to have wasted my time in summarizing the submissions and arguments of the Appellant’s counsel in the first place, however by so doing, I have been able to bring to fore the issues canvassed, with the aim of laying the proper foundation for throwing out this appeal out of the windows of this Court.
The law is trite that the ground of appeal is the foundation of every appeal as it constitutes an Appellant’s complaint against the judgment appealed against. The ground of appeal also gives information of the precise nature of an Appellant’s complaint and ensures fairness to the other side: See SARHUNA V. LAGGA (2009) ALL FWLR (PT 455) 1617 @ 1636 (S.C.).
The conclusion of all I have been saying is that the submission of the Appellant’s counsel on failure of the trial Court to consider the defence of insanity in favour of the Appellant is not well-founded in this Court. All the submissions and arguments of the Appellant in this regard are therefore discountenanced.
On the whole, I hold that this appeal is unmeritorious and same is hereby dismissed. The conviction of the Appellant for the offence of culpable homicide punishable with death and the sentence of death imposed on him by the trial Court and affirmed by the lower Court is hereby further affirmed.