Man facing life imprisonment on drug charge walks free over broken chain of custody

Maldives Police Service disposes of drugs seized in operations on June 26, 2019. (File Photo/Sun/Mohamed Muzain Nazim)

A man arrested for drug trafficking who faced life imprisonment has been acquitted by the Criminal Court over broken chain of custody.

The man was arrested in 2014 after he boarded a car after travelling from Male’ City to Gan, Addu City on a plane carrying drugs.

The man, a resident of Male’ City, was taken to the Gan Police Station. A search of his person revealed drugs taped to his thighs.

According to the police, officers first searched his luggage and asked him to strip off his clothes. He voluntarily took off his pants, pointed at his thighs, and confessed that it was drugs taped to his thighs. One police officer testified he confessed that the drugs had been a gift from a friend in Male’ City, and were for his personal use, while another police officers testified that he confessed that the drugs had been handed over to him by someone from Male’ City for transport to Gan.

According to the police analysis report, the man had 191.7 grams of cannabis tapped to his left thigh and 214.5 grams of cannabis taped to his right thigh.

At the first hearing in the case, the man said he wished to proceed with the trial with assistance from a public defender, but on the second hearing, asked that he be given time to hire a private defense attorney after consulting with his family.

He entered a plea of not guilty.

His attorney, Abdulla Shair entered a motion to submit evidence to prove the improbability of finding drugs on his client. He said he wished to name the airport staff who checked his client as witnesses for the defense, but no defense evidence was submitted when the opportunity was provided by the court.

The defense, after the closing arguments were presented at court, presented the argument that the chain of custody had been broken in the evidence submitted by the State.

The court allowed the defense to present the argument to allow for a fair ruling in the case.

“The chain of custody form is incomplete, it is unclear in this case how the evidence as transferred from custody of one party to the other from the point the drugs were lifted, and the higher courts have already established that it can only be proven from the chain of custody card,” argued Attorney Abdulla Shair.

Following this argument, the court pointed out that the four-page document presented by the State as chain of custody were all computer generated information and lacked any signatures. It also established that the chain of custody from the point the drugs were lifted from the crime scene to after the drugs were sent to the lab and its analysis completed, was unclear.

Criminal Court Judge Hussain Faiz Rashad issued the man an acquittal based on the broken chain of custody on August 1.

Drugs Act established cannabis trafficking as a criminal offense, punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of MVR 100,000 to MVR 10 million.