A man convicted of armed robbery was on Wednesday vindicated after serving most of his 15-year sentence.
The Privy Council in a unanimous decision quashed Vinson Ariste’s 2012 conviction after finding that his confession—the only evidence against him— ought not to have been allowed.
The court said, “We cannot conclude this judgment without expressing the Board’s deep concern about what has happened in this case. A young man has been languishing in prison for over 12 years on the basis of a confession that should have never been admitted in evidence against him.”
Ariste was convicted of the July 16, 2010 armed robbery of Andrea Donaldson following a trial before now-Senior Justice Bernard Turner.
Police arrested a then-20-year-old Ariste at his home on July 21, 2010 and he remained in their custody until July 27, 2010.
Between July 22 and 25, Ariste confessed to multiple armed robberies and two murders.
At the time, he had no convictions and, apart from the confession, there was no other evidence linking him to Donaldson’s armed robbery.
Turner ruled Ariste’s confession admissible after the unrepresented defendant tried to have it excluded on the basis that it was obtained through coercion.
Ariste alleged that he was beaten and suffocated by police officers. The officers denied abusing Ariste to extract a confession and claimed that his injuries were sustained prior to his arrest.
However, the officers made no notation of a visible injury to Ariste’s face on his detention record.
The Privy Council found that it was “a very serious problem” that Turner failed to give reasons for admitting the confession.
The court said, “There are three matters in particular that should have been obvious to the trial judge at the time of the voir dire and that should have been troubling him about the voluntariness of the confession.
“The first is that the appellant was not legally represented at the police station.
“Although the evidence of Officer Ranger at the voir dire was that he was advised of his rights to a lawyer and responded, “I straight. Y’all done get me”, the appellant’s evidence at the voir dire was that he had asked for a lawyer and the officers had beaten him and told him that he did not need a lawyer.
“This is consistent with the fact that he had not signed the relevant section of the detention record informing him of his right to have a lawyer.
“Secondly, there was no record of any injuries in the police detention record on his arrival at the police station even though at least the temporal abrasion to his face must, on the account given by the police officers, have been visible.
“On the contrary, the detention record records that on arrival at the police station, ‘he appeared well’ and was in ‘good health’.
“Further statements that the appellant ‘appeared well’ occur frequently in the detention record without a single reference at any point to any mark or injury on his body.
“Thirdly, and most importantly, there is the inherent improbability that during a period of detention (between 22 July 2010 and 25) the appellant would voluntarily confess, without a lawyer, to at least six offences or groups of offences, including murder, for which there was no independent evidence.”