Former cop loses appeal over Breach of Trust conviction
Former officer within the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force (RVIPF), Starcy Huggins, lost at the Court of Appeal in attempting to overturn her 2019 conviction and sentence for Breach of Trust.
Huggins was convicted for tipping off suspects under police investigations in a covert operation in 2013 called CUMBRIA. The operation involved the fabrication of another operation called BOWFIN, where Huggins was recorded making phone calls to the suspects upon whom search warrants were being executed.
In operation BOWFIN, Huggins was called on to assist other officers in executing search warrants at the premises of Kemuel Merry and Cliff Williams. She was collected by fellow police officers in a police vehicle fitted with audio and video recording equipment.
Huggins was then left alone in the vehicle and was recorded making phone calls to both Merry and Williams. She was subsequently convicted and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, suspended for a two-year period.
She appealed the conviction, citing issues with the elements of the offence of Breach of Trust, the admissibility of audio-visual recordings, and the fairness of the trial.
Appeal Court decision
The Court of Appeal found that Huggins was not denied a fair trial as she claimed. The Court ruled that while the right to a fair trial is absolute, it must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. In this case, it found that there was not a single instance where there was an error of procedure or law which prevented Huggins from properly making her defence.
It was also found that many of the issues raised by attorneys for Huggins concern points that did not accurately reflect the true nature of the trial. Furthermore, the Court dismissed Huggins’ argument that she was a victim of entrapment, as there was nothing on the record to demonstrate that she was forced, coerced or persuaded to act in the way she did.
The Court also addressed the fact that evidence was obtained by covert means, stating that it is not a sole ground to challenge its admissibility and does not make the trial unfair. Even if the constitutional right is infringed in the process, it is within the purview of the trial judge whether to exercise their discretion to admit the said evidence or not. The argument by Huggins that there was no judicial preauthorisation to engage in covert operations was found to be unconvincing.
Huggins was represented by Michael Lashley, KC, Akilah Anderson and Tracy Francis-Smith while Tiffany Scatliffe represented the Commissioner of Police in the matter.