Sun | Sep 24, 2023

Cop freed of false imprisonment conviction on appeal

Published:Tuesday | March 21, 2023 | 1:09 AMTanesha Mundle/Staff Reporter

A police constable, who was convicted of false imprisonment for arresting a female motorist for driving with one headlight, was last month freed by the Court of Appeal.

Ronald Davis was found guilty of false imprisonment in April 2019, following a trial in the St Catherine Parish Court, and was sentenced to nine months, suspended for 12 months.

Then Parish Judge Tara Carr convicted the officer after concluding that his arrest of the motorist was unlawful and that he had no power of arrest.

In its judgment published last month, the Court of Appeal indicated that the judge’s finding was erroneous and quashed the conviction. The suspended sentence was also set aside.

The driver was detained for driving with one headlight on East Street in Old Harbour, St Catherine, in January 2013.

The prosecution’s case at the parish court was that the motorist, when stopped, indicated that she had just taken the car to a garage to have the light repaired.

When her documents were requested, she reportedly disclosed that the car belonged to her father – a superintendent of police – and that he could bring the documents as she lived nearby.

But the motorist was informed by Davis that the vehicle would be seized. A female cop and another colleague were instructed to take the woman to the police station. She was then put in a cell until her father arrived with the documents.

When her father arrived, an officer told the woman to exit the cell, but Davis reportedly told her that she should remain as he was going to charge her because of her attitude.

In an unsworn statement in his defence, Davis admitted to stopping the motorist for driving with one headlight and that she was transported to the police station by his colleagues.

However, he made no mention of the female’s detention or the complaint of false imprisonment.

The trial judge, however, found that the arrest was unlawful and that the motorist was injuriously detained against her will.

According to her, the motorist was first detained by the female officer because of the problem with the headlight and having no driver’s licence, but her continued detention by Davis after the documents were brought was unlawful.

Carr was of the view that the arrest would have been lawful if it resulted from the power of arrest conferred on the officer.

Davis, however, appealed the conviction on the grounds that the verdict was unreasonable, given the evidence, and that the sentence was manifestly excessive.

Davis’ attorney, Robert Fletcher, argued during the appeal hearing that his client was within his rights to make a lawful arrest under Section 40 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) of 1938, which requires a notice to be issued and a fixed penalty to be paid.

But he further pointed out that under Section 15 of the Constabulary Force Act (CFA), police officers have the power to arrest without a warrant and that Section 40 makes it an offence to drive without a headlamp.

Fletcher further contended that Section 116(2) of the RTA gives a constable the option to issue a fixed penalty notice, but that it is not mandatory. Hence, the detention could not be unlawful.

Crown Counsel Sharon Milwood Moore conceded that the judge erred when she found that the police had no lawful power of arrest while adding that the guilty verdict was flawed.

The Court of Appeal judges agreed with Fletcher’s argument and the Crown’s concession that the CFA gives the police the power of arrest in the circumstances where a road traffic infraction has been committed