A Guyanese man who was arrested in February on a 1996 bench warrant for an offence allegedly committed in 1988 has been released by a High Court judge because it appeared police arrested the wrong man on the basis of a name.
And the High Court judge releasing the man said he was appalled police arrested Azaad Ali on the basis of his name and not his fingerprints.
Ali was accused of robbing a man of $400 in Tamana on September 24, 1988. He was committed to stand trial in the High Court and a bench warrant was issued in 1996 by now retired judge Stanley John.
However, the name on the warrant was for an Azad Ali, of Four Roads, Tamana.
Ali was arrested on February 8, while at the Cumuto police station, after he signed for his bail on two other charges for which he appeared in court.
A search had been done by police and the bench warrant for the 1988 came up leading to Ali’s arrest.
Justice Frank Seepersad pointed to the difference in the spelling of the first name, and also said the signatures of the two Alis did not appear to match.
The judge, in an oral decision delivered at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, said Azad Ali, who signed a bail bond for the 1988 offence, appeared to be barely literate, based on the signature, while Azaad Ali’s signature on the bail documents he signed in February pointed to a functionally literate man.
He said the court had a difficulty accepting it was the same person the police were seeking for the 1988 offence.
Seepersad advised the police to use extreme caution when apprehending someone on a name.
In Ali’s case, he said greater care ought to have been exercised.
“There are many people with the same name,” he said, pointing out Ali could have remained on remand at the prison indefinitely if the court had not intervened.
“The rights of persons cannot be treated dismissively,” he said,
In freeing Ali on the habeas corpus application, the judge pointed out that the bench warrant for Azad Ali was still active and advised state prosecutors to bring it to the attention of the Director of Public Prosecutions, since the man Ali was alleged to have robbed is now dead and there was nothing linking anyone by description to the crime.
“There is no other identification and nothing linking anyone by description; then where is this matter going? I do not want someone else with the same name being apprehended. If the matter cannot be reasonably brought to trial then it should be off the list,” he said, also pointing out that the robbery case was some 30 years old.
According to Ali’s habeas corpus application – the third filed by his attorneys Keisha Peters and Renee Joseph – an eventual fingerprint tracing of his criminal record showed he had two pending charges of obscene language and possession of a weapon, but none for a 1988 robbery with aggravation charge.
The application also said at the time of the alleged 1988 offence, Azaad Ali was not living in TT, in 1989 had been issued an Inter-Caribbean travel permit in Guyana and came to TT in September 1990.
Joseph, in the application, said she also spoke to the arresting officer in the 1988 matter and he described Azad Ali as being a Trinidadian who was dark-skinned, of small build and of East Indian descent. She said there has been no investigation that the right man was in custody.
Speaking after he was eventually released, Ali said he was relieved and the judge’s ruling renewed his trust in the justice system.
He said his four-month remand period in jail was terrible, especially since he was there for something he did not do.
Ali had a dim view of the police and prison conditions, as sometimes nine men are kept in a cell overrun with rats, flies and cockroaches.
“It is sad that people presumed innocent until proven guilty are treated in this inhumane way,” he said.
Ali said he intends to take legal action against the State, which has already been ordered to pay $45,000 in legal costs.