DAMNING ADMISSIONS

Why suspects change their minds after pleading guilty

Magistrates, court clerks, prosecution officials, police officers in court and even fellow suspects in cells influence the decisions of people on trial, which can help them to get less severe sentences

In Summary

• Ignorance of the law is no defence, but ignorance of the consequences shocks court officials

• Suspects who readily admit to grave offences tend to be given a chance to rethink their decisions before being slapped with high sentences

A court room at Milimani listens to a case in progress
A court room at Milimani listens to a case in progress
Image: FILE

When taken to court, many suspects do not know how serious their offences are. They can easily enter a guilty plea that will come back to haunt them.

 

Some of them have pleaded guilty to robbery with violence charges, grievous harm and even defilement, perhaps thinking their admission will get them leniency.

Magistrates sometimes set their file aside to allow them to rethink their decision or to give room to their colleagues to advise them in the cells.

 

However, before the charges are read to them, court clerks and the prosecution usually advise on the consequences of pleading guilty to serious offences.

“Be warned that the charges before you are serious and if found guilty, you may be convicted for life, take caution,” Edwin Ombuna, the court clerk in a Kibera court, told some suspects.

Speaking to the Star, lawyer Moses Munoko said it is the responsibility of court officials to educate the suspects before they take plea.

"The constitution allows every suspect to be educated on issues he or she is not aware, specifically on serious offences like murder, robbery with violence, grievous harm and defilement," he said.

The Star understands that magistrates also have a role to play and to sensitise the suspects if the court officials do not.

"Madam clerk, you are reading the charges to these suspects without telling them the seriousness of this event. Please educate them," advised one of the magistrates in a Nairobi court.

 

To prove the matter, the following are some of the case studies as analysed by the Star.

 

CASE STUDIES

In a Makadara court, a 19-year-old man charged with robbery with violence admitted to raping his victim but later changed his mind.

Zakayo Musyoki, who had been warned by the court clerk on the seriousness of the charges, changed his mind after the suspects present and court attendants expressed their shock to him.

Most of them were heard talking in low tones on what grounds the suspect admitted to the charges.

Musyoki had been accused of attacking a businesswoman at Kahawa West in Nairobi and violently robbing her of her Sh3,999 phone at knifepoint on September 26.

He then dragged her into a roadside drainage, where he raped her while threatening her with a knife.

The suspect ran away after he saw boda boda riders coming towards the scene. He was freed on a surety bond of Sh500,000.

Another case study is in Kibera court, where two Lenana chefs pleaded guilty to stealing students’ meat. The magistrate ordered that the file be placed aside so the facts are read the following day. They came with a different plea and denied the charges.

The prosecution had told the court the police file was not present in court for facts and ordered the matter to be mentioned the following day.

Richard Kyengo and Denis Nyongesa were then detained in the police station, and when they appeared in court the following day, they denied the charges.

The duo had been accused of committing the offence on June 17 at the school kitchen in Dagoretti subcounty, Nairobi. They were later released on bond.

BACK FOR FACTS

Again in Kibera court, a man pleaded guilty to defiling a minor and said he assisted him to undress his trouser before preying on him.

The man, who spoke confidently, however, changed his mind after the magistrate ordered that he be closed up in cells for some hours. 

“Go and came back for facts later,” he directed. Perhaps the magistrate was giving him a chance to rethink his decision.

When he came back, he raised his hand and told the court he did not hear the charges. He requested the court to allow the clerks to read the charges to him afresh.

When the charges were read a second time, he denied and said he never committed the offence. The Star learnt that the suspects in cells advised him to "style up".

In other cases, the accused persons ignorantly fail to show the court they are remorseful of their offence, despite efforts from the magistrate and the prosecution to have them give a sorry statement before rulings and, as a result, they are given hefty sentences.

For instance, in Nyamira, a man was convicted to life imprisonment on September 30. He shocked the court by pleading guilty to assaulting and defiling his one-year-old daughter.

Bernard Kegwaro pleaded guilty before had beaten the child on the buttocks, causing physical harm to her Nyamira senior resident magistrate Alice Towett.

He was accused of committing the offence on September 27 at Nyamiacho village in Bomwagamo, North Mugirango.

The magistrate did not convict him instantly as he ordered that he be detained so that a probation officer could be brought to court before his sentencing.

MORE RASH PLEAS

On September 25, a man was convicted to life imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to defiling a six-year-old minor in Nakuru county.

Wesley Langat was convicted before Molo resident magistrate Emmanuel Soita. He had been accused of committing the offence in Bararget village, Kuresoi South.

Magistrate Soita warned Langat that his admission to the offences would result in him being imprisoned for life, but the suspect maintained that he was sure he had committed the offences.

He had blamed alcohol for his inhumane act and he maintained that he committed the offence.

Police officers in court have also influenced the decision of suspects and assisted them get lower sentences.

For instance, during the mitigation of different cases, suspects and police use facial expressions to try and articulate their messages to them.

If the suspect gets what they mean, they smile and when they don't, they show a sad mood, and when the verdict is made, it reflects in their expression.

A scenario which shows that suspects influence their colleagues' decisions is during cases of being caught in possession of narcotics.

Most suspects who appear in court admit to charges in groups, forcing the prosecution to intervene and inform them they have to reply one by one.

UNDER DURESS

However, sometimes suspects implicate the police for their original pleas. In one case, a driver in Kibera court pleaded guilty to violating traffic laws and later pleaded not guilty.

Thomas Miyoro, after denying the charges, quickly told Kibera senior resident magistrate Faith Mutuku that the officer who was present in court with a file in his hand chased after him, arrested him and together with other officers beat him up.

He said the officer gave him blows to the head sideways, making him hear some vibration sounds in his ears.

Miyoro told the court that as a result of the beating he encountered, he was a sickly man who needed medication.

“Your honour, my ears and my head are in pain. This man you see in front of you in some blue uniforms together with his colleagues assaulted me and left me in pain. Kindly assist me,” he told the court.

Miyoro requested the magistrate to order the officer use his money to take him for medication at a nearby hospital. “Let him take me to the hospital before I come back and face my charges, I am suffering,” he said.

However, the investigation officer told the court Miyoro looked elusive and disappeared when he was ordered to stop.

According to the charge sheet, Miyoro had been accused of driving a vehicle, KBU 363, on Waiyaki Way under the influence of alcohol. He was also charged with five other counts of traffic offences.

He denied the charges by remaining silent when the charges were read to him by the court clerk.

Mutuku slapped him with a bond of Sh200,000 with a cash bail of the same amount with a credible contact person.