Magistrate warns cops about laying charges without proper evidence

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Police officers check motorists’ documents during a roadblock along the Western Main Road, Chaguaramas. – File photo

A Chaguanas magistrate has advised the police against laying charges without proper evidence.

“We have to be cautious in applying the law that we are not applying the law in a manner in which it might be alleged that particular persons are being discriminated against in the application of that law.

“There is an extra responsibility on the part of any complainant…If you have a reasonable suspicion, fine.

“The law caters for that.

“But beyond reasonable suspicion in laying the actual charges, a complainant needs to be not only satisfied with guilt but needs to be satisfied he has sufficient evidence that may compel a court of a defendant’s guilt.”

The advice was given by Magistrate Duane Murray on July 9, after he dismissed two charges against a Cuban man for never having been issued a TT driver’s permit and driving a vehicle without insurance.

Before the court was Andro Roberto Rojas Morales, who was charged on June 17, 2024, while he went to the Cunupia police station to make a report.

According to the police’s evidence, Morales was asked for his passport and if he was visiting or living in Trinidad.

He told an officer he had been living in the country for the past two years. Morales provided his Cuban passport but when asked if he had ever been issued a driver’s permit by the TT Licensing Authority, he replied he did not.

He was then told not having a permit meant he was also not covered by a certificate of insurance and charged.

However, Morales had an international driver’s licence. His attorney Bhimal Maharajh contended the Motor Vehicle Road Traffic Act allowed a non-national in possession of a valid permit from a country that was a signatory to the Geneva Convention to drive on TT’s roads.

Maharajh said “far too many times” when police see a non-national in a vehicle, they are charged for driving without a permit and brought before the court without extensive inquiries being done.

Maharajh applied to have his client discharged.

Murray agreed, saying there was nothing by the police to suggest the international permit was invalid before dismissing the complaints. He also urged the police to conduct reasonable inquiries before laying charges.

He ordered the police to immediately return Morales’ international driver’s permit and his Cuban passport as soon as they received it from the immigration division.