A Lagos High Court on Wednesday ordered the release of Blessing Effiong, a 19-year-old girl, who had spent nearly four years in Kirikiri Prison for alleged phone theft.
In the case titled People of Lagos State vs Blessing Effiong, the teenager, whose plea was taken for the first time, was charged with possessing suspected stolen property.
However, before the charge was read to her, prosecution lawyer, Mr. W.A Quadri, sought and got the court’s permission to amend the charge against the teenager.
The charge was changed from receiving stolen property to possessing suspected stolen property.
Before the new charge was read to Effiong, Quadri informed the court that both parties had entered into a plea bargain and sentence agreement.
Justice Christopher Balogun berated both the prosecution and defence counsel for not intimating the court of the development ahead of time. He, nonetheless, allowed the case to continue.
“So, there was an issue of plea bargain and you did not inform the court ahead of time? You should have brought this to the notice of the court long before now,” he said.
The charge reads in part, “Blessing Effiong on or about the months of July and August 2008 at Descon Hotel, Apapa Road, in the Lagos Judicial Division was found in possession of a Starcomms handset reasonably suspected to have been stolen and was unable to give satisfactory account of how she came by the same.
“Having possession of a thing reasonably suspected to have been stolen contrary to Section 430 (1) of the Criminal Code Law, Cap. C17, Vol.2, Laws of Lagos State 2003.”
Effiong, who pleaded guilty, however, told the court that she was 19 years, when the judge asked her if she understood the implication of her plea.
Effiong’s lawyer, Nsikan Upong, urged the court to strike out an application for bail which was filed in respect of the previous charge dated October 24, 2011. The court granted this request.
Quadri argued that upon Effiong’s plea to her new charge, the court should convict and appropriately sentence her.
Before his judgment, Balogun noted that the law which Effiong contravened and pleaded guilty to carried about six months’ sentence or N200 fine.
He added that the said law which was amended by the state government in 2011 also carried a six months’sentence but a fine of N90,000.
Quadri argued that her crime was committed in 2008, before the 2011 law was promulgated and urged the court to convict her based on the 2003 law.
Effiong’s lawyer said she had been in prison for almost four years and begged the court to tender justice with mercy.
Upong said, “We urge the court to temper justice with mercy. The defendant was arrested since August 17, 2008 and was remanded on September 12 and has been in prison custody for over three and a half calendar years.
“This charge, which she has pleaded guilty to, carries a six-month sentence or a fine of N200. As you give your sentence, please she is also a first time offender and deserves the sympathy of this court.”
In his judgment, Balogun said, “Blessing Effiong is hereby sentenced to six months in prison for having possession of a thing suspected to be stolen, contrary to Section 430 (1) of the Criminal Code Law, Cap C17, Vol.2, Laws of Lagos State, 2003.
“However, the period which the defendant used in custody has surpassed the six months and she has therefore spent out her prison term and she should be released immediately.”