Court Overturns 25-yr Jail Sentence For Kawempe Couple After Rejecting Police Dog Evidence

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The Court of Appeal has overturned the conviction of a couple sentenced to 25 years in jail for murder based solely on the evidence of a police sniffer dog.

A three-member panel comprising Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera, Christopher Gashirabake, and Oscar Kihika, found that the High Court trial judge, Anthony Oyuko OJok erred in relying solely on the canine evidence without any other corroborating evidence.

The couple, Jonathan Mazuku and Justine Mpamulungi, were arrested in 2017 after the area defence secretary discovered the body of Jennifer Namuwonge at a rubbish heap in St. Francis zone, Kawempe Division near the couple’s residence. The chairperson LC I Charles Kazibwe informed the officer in charge of Bwaise Police post, who rushed to the scene.

Shortly, after, the then OC station Kawempe police division assistant superintendent of police Agnes Aanyu together with other police officers deployed a police dog to track the scent of the suspects.

They led them to the couple’s house where police recovered a faded grey stained skirt and a pair of closed shoes. However, forensic analysis at the Government Analytical Laboratory in Wandegeya indicated that the soil samples and blood stains were not definitively linked to the crime scene.

Despite this, the trial judge convicted the couple based on the evidence of the sniffer dog No. 70 Neval Geman Shepherd, and the qualifications of its handler. In 2020, the couple appealed against the conviction and subsequent sentence on grounds that it was harsh and excessive.

They also argued that the judge erred in law and fact when he convicted them on uncorroborated circumstantial /canine evidence after failing to interpret the findings of an expert in regard to soil samples picked from the scene of the crime and in their shoes.

Now, in their ruling, the Court of Appeal justices note that there are specific principles that should be considered before relying on canine evidence, including proving the reputation, skill, and training of the dog’s handler, demonstrating the circumstances of the tracking, and ensuring that the evidence is treated with care and explained thoroughly.

They argued that whereas the dog and its trainer are all well trained, what was lacking however, was evidence of association between the dog and its trainer, which is a prerequisite if the canine evidence is to be admissible in court.
“We are of the view that the learned judge ought to have inquired into PW1’s /trainer’s association with the sniffer dog before admitting the evidence. Having admitted the canine evidence, the trial judge should have cautioned himself about relying on the said evidence. This he did not do,” said the justices.

The Court of Appeal criticized the lack of collaboration between the sniffer dog evidence and other supporting evidence, such as eyewitness accounts or forensic results. They emphasized that while sniffer dogs can be valuable in police investigations, their evidence must be corroborated by other sources to be deemed reliable.
“Much as sniffer dogs have played an important role in police investigations for decades with their keen sense of smell being noticed and utilized, much caution has been taken before relying on their evidence. But one fact which is clear is that such evidence when admitted must be corroborated by some other evidence which gives strength to the canine evidence as presented through its handler or trainer. The prosecution must provide answers to any lingering questions in the affirmative before relying on police dog evidence,” said the justices.

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