PLEA NOT UNEQUIVOCAL

Man sentenced to 30 years in jail for defiling ‘wife’ to be retried

Judge says the trial court failed to explain to Njeru the nature and magnitude of the charge he was facing and the severity of the sentence.

In Summary

• Njeru said he was convicted of defilement and sentenced, yet the complainant had been married to him for two years.

• He said he was intimidated and threatened at the police station and as a result he was confused and pleaded guilty.

Scales of justice.
DEFILEMENT: Scales of justice.
Image: FILE

The High Court in Embu has quashed a 30-year jail sentence imposed on a man who pleaded guilty to defiling a minor he claimed was his wife.

The court has ordered that Livo Mutugi Njeru be charged and tried afresh on the grounds of an ambiguous charge.

In 2105, Njeru was charged in Runyenjes court with defiling a minor and he pleaded guilty. Consequently, the court sentenced him to 30 years behind bars, a decision that aggrieved him.

He thus proceeded to the High Court and sought to have his conviction quashed and the sentence set aside. Njeru claimed that the trial magistrate erred in law and facts when he convicted him on an equivocal plea of guilt.

“That the learned trial magistrate also erred in law and facts sentencing the appellant to 30 years [in jail] which was harsh and excessive,” the court heard.

Njeru said he was convicted and sentenced, yet the complainant had been married to him for two years. He said no complaint had been lodged by any person against their marriage until his location chief interfered out of ill-will due to a land dispute pitting him against the administrator.

He added that he was intimidated and threatened at the police station and as a result he became confused even when he was arraigned, thus ended up pleading guilty not knowing the consequences.

"It was his submission further that the victim was not brought to court for the court to see her posture and physical body structure, which was such that no one could tell if she was a minor,” court papers read.

In his submissions, Njeru indicated that the complainant - the alleged wife - was never opposed to the union as she willingly consented to it. And neither did her parents complain.

He thus said the sentence imposed on him was excessive as he had unconsciously pleaded guilty, in addition to being young and a first offender.

But the state submitted that the plea was properly taken in compliance and sought the appellate judge to quash the appeal.

In her ruling, however, Justice Florence Muchemu merited the appeal, saying the trial court failed to explain to Njeru the nature and magnitude of the charge he was facing and the severity of the sentence.

“The offence facing the appellant was a serious one and the court ought to have made sure the appellant was aware of the gravity of the offence facing him,” Muchemi said.

Delivering the ruling on July 2, the judge ordered a retrial by a different magistrate within four months.

“Where a plea of guilty is not unequivocal, the conviction resulting therefrom cannot stand but ought to be quashed and sentence set aside,” she said.

Edited by F'Orieny