By LAMECH JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
A MAN who maintains that police framed him over the daylight robbery of a Scotiabank branch had his hopes dashed by the Court of Appeal on Thursday when his appeal against convictions for attempted murder and other serious crimes were dismissed.
James Miller, 37, was convicted in June 2009 of attempted murder, five counts of armed robbery, four of possession of a firearm with intent to prevent lawful arrest and a charge each of causing grievous harm and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.
He received life imprisonment for attempted murder and 25 years on each conviction of armed robbery. He also received five years for causing grievous harm, 10 years for possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, 10 years on the first two counts of possession of a firearm with intent to prevent lawful arrest, and 14 years on each of the last two convictions of possession of a firearm with intent to prevent lawful arrest.
All of the sentences were ordered to run concurrently and to take effect from the date of conviction.
Miller contested the convictions to the appellate court on the basis that the trial judge was wrong, in law, in not allowing him time to prepare his defence as guaranteed by article 20 of the Constitution.
He further argued that his sentences were unduly severe.
The Constitution guarantees that such a person shall be given adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence and be permitted to defend himself before the court in person, or at his own expense, by a lawyer of his own choice or by a lawyer at the public expense.
Concerning the issue of the Constitution, the appellate court disagreed and dismissed his appeals against conviction save for the appeal against conviction for causing grievous harm which had been conceded by the Crown based on the evidence.
“Whether or not there is a breach of the right to counsel, or a breach of the right to have adequate time to prepare one’s defence, the Court must still go on to consider whether as a result of the absence of counsel, there was prejudice to the appellant resulting in an unfair trial and a miscarriage of justice as it is the duty of this Court to examine the overall fairness of the trial", the Court ruled.
“In the present case it was the appellant's choice not to have counsel assigned to him and to represent himself and in such circumstances there generally would not be a breach of the right to legal representation.
“While there were some complex issues, the appellant effectively conveyed his defence of alibi through cross-examination and indeed in his evidence on oath."
However, the court did allow Miller’s appeal against sentence for attempted murder substituted because of their 2013 decision in the case of Angelo Poitier, in which it ruled that determinant sentences should be imposed in murder cases where the death penalty was not warranted
A sentence of 40 years imprisonment was substituted for life imprisonment. The other sentences were affirmed.
On July 2, 2008, two men with a shotgun and handgun, entered the East Street and Soldier Road branch of Scotiabank and robbed employees and patrons of cash. Miller was one of the alleged culprits.
On exiting the bank, the men encountered a police vehicle while stuck in traffic on East Street. They opened fire and the officer driving the vehicle was struck in the head. The officer survived the near-fatal encounter.
The men were then involved in a high-speed chase with the police. However, after crashing into a utility pole, the men fled on foot and fired shots at the chasing officers.
When the police caught up with the suspects, Miller was arrested while wearing a bullet-proof vest and blue gloves. He was also in possession of a handgun and money, including bait money found in a bag a short distance away from where the appellant was apprehended.
Masks were also found and evidence produced at trial that DNA from one of the masks belonged to the appellant.
Miller gave evidence at his trial that he was not involved in the robbery of the bank and the shooting of the police officer. He claimed police framed him because he was known to the authorities.
He said that on the day of the robbery he had his friend Craig’s car, which he had overnight. After returning the car, and while getting a ride with another person who he had arranged to pick him up, the police pursued them and fired shots at the car.
He confirmed that they collided with a utility pole and that he got out and ran and the police shot at them.
He said he was wearing the bulletproof vest for his protection, but denied that the one produced at trial was the one he had been wearing when he was apprehended. He also denied having gloves on.
The jury did not accept his defence.
Murrio Ducille argued Miller’s appeal while Koschina Marshall responded for the Crown. Justices Dame Anita Allen, Abdulai Conteh and Neville Adderley presided over the appeal.