NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Court of Appeal yesterday affirmed the 25-year sentence of a man convicted of armed robbery in 2018, noting that “none of the grounds advanced by the intended appellant has any realistic prospect of success”.
Court of Appeal Justices Jon Isaacs, Maureen Crane-Scott and Milton Evans ruled on the matter.
In September 2015, Paul Bellizar, with others, was arraigned in a Magistrate’s Court on charges for the September 12, 2015, murders of Barry and Sheena Johnson and the armed robbery of Barry.
Bellizar launched an interlocutory appeal to the appellate court, challenging the voluntary bill of indictment (VBI) during the course of the trial, but the appeal was not heard before the trial ended.
During trial, the jury could not agree on the murder counts.
Bellizar was found guilty of armed robbery and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment in May 2018.
He applied to the court to appeal, but failed to do so within the required time frame.
In November 2018, Bellizar filed a notice for an application for an extension of time within which to appeal.
But the Court of Appeal dismissed Bellizar’s appeal on the judge’s interlocutory decision, and refused the application for the extension of time, affirming the sentence imposed by the judge of the lower court for armed robbery.
“No fault can be found with the judge’s determination that a substantially true case has been made out on the statements filed with the VBI,” read the ruling.
“There is great doubt that a court in which a trial has commenced can entertain an application to quash a VBI on the basis of insufficiency of evidence.
“It is in only the rarest of cases should a trial judge embark upon an inquiry into the sufficiency of evidence even before a trial starts, where the originating process to have the person before the court is a VBI; and even then the application should be made by a properly constituted motion well in advance of the trial date; certainly not after the jury has been empaneled and the defendant placed into their charge.”
In his ruling, Isaacs said there was no merit in Bellizar’s proposed challenge that no true case is disclosed on the papers forming the VBI.
He referred to section 258(2)(b) of the Commonwealth Penal Code, which states that the intended respondent is merely to be satisfied that “the case disclosed by the statement is, to the best of his knowledge, information and belief, substantially a true case”.
“It may be seen, therefore, that once there is some evidence in the witness statements and/or confession statements placed before the intended respondent which purports to show that an accused person is involved in the commission of an indictable offense, the intended appellant cannot be faulted if he was to execute and file a statement pursuant to section 258(2)(b) of the CPC,” read the ruling.
The appellate court noted that in the lower court, Bellizar’s trial attorney, Jeffrey Farquharson, “strove mightily, albeit in vain, to forestall an application by the prosecution” to amend the VBI once two of the co-accuseds had pleaded guilty to the armed robbery count, so that only three defendants’ names appears on the VBI; and the prosecution had entered nolle prosequis in respect of the murder counts.
Counsel for the remaining accused men had little to no objection to the VBI being amended, the appellate court noted.
“However, Mr Farquharson objected to the amendment because, inter alia, the status of the two ex-co-accuseds had changed and this meant that they could not give evidence against his client, the appellant,” read the ruling.
“Moreover, Mr Farquharson contended that [the] timing of the application to amend was a source of prejudice to the appellant since he would had no opportunity to respond to what was essentially a new case being brought against him.”
The court also noted that there was significant delay by the intended appellant in the prosecution of his appeal with “no reasonable explanation for such delay”, and the grounds advanced had no “realistic prospect of success”.
“However, if I am wrong to have so found, I am satisfied that the intended appeal would inevitably be dismissed and the proviso to section 13(1) of the COA Act applied,” Isaacs said.