In every criminal proceeding, the prosecution has a duty imposed on him by virtue of the provisions of section 135 of the Evidence Act to prove the guilt of the accused, beyond reasonable doubts. The prosecution must not just prove the commission of the said offence but must establish all the elements and ingredients of such offence and thereby linking the accused person to the said offence. This position of the law is one which has gained judicial recognition in the authority of IBERI v. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION (2014) 5NWLR (PT 1401) where the court held that;
” it is not for the accused person to prove his innocence. The burden is on the prosecution to establish the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubts. By proof beyond reasonable doubts, it is intended that a Prima facie case must be made out by the prosecution against the accused”.
The court, in defining a Prima facie case noted that; ” it connotes the existence of evidence which is sufficient enough to support the allegation made and would be regarded as having been made in the absence of further evidence in rebuttal of same”.
Therefore, failure on the part of the prosecution to establish the ingredients of an offence will be fatal to its case and the accused may raise a plea of a “no case submission” or “no case to answer”.
In this article, we shall examine the meaning and nature of the plea of no case submission, what the applicant seeking to rely on this plea must satisfy and fulfil and the legal effect of a discharge of an accused person upon a submission of “No case to answer”.
MEANING AND NATURE OF THE PLEA NO CASE SUBMISSION.
A no case submission means simply that there is nothing in the evidence adduced by the prosecution that would persuade the court to compel the accused person to put up his defense. A no case submission further means that there is no evidence on which the court would convict even if the court believed the evidence adduced by the prosecution.
In DEBRA v. STATE (1997) 5SC 197, the court stated clearly that a plea of no case submission can be raised where there has been throughout the trial, no legally admissible evidence at all against the accused person on behalf of whom the submission has been made to link him in any way with the commission of the offence with which he has been charged.
The court also in UBANATU v. COP (2001) 1SCNJ 50 stated that a plea of no case submission can only be successfully raised where the prosecution has failed to prove the essential elements and ingredients of the offence in which the accused is charged with.
CONDITIONS TO FULFILL BEFORE A NO CASE SUBMISSION CAN SUCCEED.
Before a plea of no case submission can be successfully pleaded, there exist conditions which must be fulfilled. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015 is explicit on this in its section 303(3) where it is stated that; In considering the application of the defendant under section 303, the court shall in the exercise of its discretion, have regard to whether :
a) whether an essential element of the offence has been proved.
b) whether there is evidence linking the defendant with the commission of the offence with which he is charged.
c) whether, on the fact of the record, the evidence of the prosecution has been so discredited and rendered unreliable by cross examination that it would be unsafe to convict on such evidence.
d) whether the evidence so far led is such that no reasonable court or tribunal would convict on it and;
e) any other ground on which the court may find that a Prima facie case has not been made out against the defendant for him to be called upon to answer.
It should be noted however that a submission of no case to answer is not upheld usually quite easily. This is given the fact that once is there is the slightest evidence linking the accused person to the offence he is charged with, the case ought to proceed in court for the accused to explain his own side of the story and what transpired.
THE LEGAL EFFECT OF A DISCHARGE OF AN ACCUSED PERSON UPON A SUBMISSION OF “NO CASE TO ANSWER”.
The position of the law is that where the court has upheld the plea of a no case submission of an accused person, such accused person stands discharged from such trial. The legal effect however of such discharge is what this work shall address in the coming lines and paragraphs.
It must first and foremost be noted that generally, where an accused person had been discharged of an offence by the court, such person cannot be said to be totally free of such offence as he still has a case to answer in the court and can consequently be rearrested and committed for a further enquiry. This is to say that the discharge of an accused in line with the above position is temporal and to an extent momentary pending when the prosecution or the court may call upon him.
Where however, a discharge is granted on an accused upon a successful plea of a no case submission, the legal effect thereof is that such an accused is totally free from the charges against him. The discharge in this case, takes the effect of an acquittal wherein the accused cannot be rearrested and committed for further enquiry.
The Supreme Court in MOHAMMED v. STATE addressed this position where it stated that; ” if at the close of evidence in support of the charge it appears to the court that a case is not made out against the defendant sufficiently to require him to make a defence, the court shall, as to that particular charge, discharge him. And a discharge following a no case submission under this section has been held to be tantamount to an acquittal “.
Going further to explain the legal effect of this kind of discharge, it is note worthy that the accused person who is discharged consequent on a successful plea of a no case submission cannot be tried De novo, as a plea of autre fois acquit would successfully be raised to terminate the trial. The option that is however available to the prosecution in this instance is filing an appeal challenging the court’s decision to discharge the accused person and not a rearrest of such accused for retrial.
Conclusively, it should be rightly noted that where an accused is discharged by the court upon a plea of no case submission or a no case to answer, the legal effect of such discharge is that it takes the form of an acquittal and to this extent, the accused cannot be subjected to a rearrest or a retrial by the prosecution.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Asanam, George Obong is a student of Faculty of Law, University of Calabar. He is an avid legal researcher and author. He can be reached via +234 703 243 3815.
For knowledge and Justice
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