Judge in a rare instance, overturned a jury’s guilty verdict and cleared defendant Nicanor Gates of the Crime of Conspiracy to Trafficked Controlled Substance in a Judgment of Acquittal issued on November 11, 2018.
Defendant Nicanor Gates, a Palauan living in California, was criminally charged in August after a package he sent from California to Palau was found to contain methamphetamine or “ice”. He was arrested shortly after he arrived in Palau to visit his ailing mother and charged with Criminal Conspiracy to Traffic Controlled Substance.
On August 16, a jury convicted him after a three day trial of Criminal Conspiracy to Traffic Controlled Substance.
In an acquittal statement, Justice Ngiraikelau said that it is not “lightly” that jury verdicts are overturned and that acquittal “may only be granted “if the evidence that the defendant committed the crime alleged was nonexistent or…meager.”
Court stated in a 27 page Judgment of Acquittal that Government had not proven beyond reasonable doubt that Defendant Gates was involved in a criminal conspiracy to traffic drugs.
Citing number of criminal conspiracy cases that showed lack of evidence to prove existence of criminal conspiracy, Court stated that the government’s evidence did not show that the Defendant knew of the conspiracy and acted to promote it.
Jurors were instructed before the trial that Criminal Conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit criminal act and the defendant know that the agreement is illegal and that they must find “that there was a plan to commit at least one of the crimes alleged in the indictment”.
According to the acquittal statement, the fact that the Defendant was married to the sister of the Julio Kazuo, that he mailed a package not knowing what was inside of it, and that he had suspicion about the package, do not prove that he conspired to commit criminal act. His “mere proximity” to the scheme does not prove he was part of the conspiracy to commit a crime.
Furthermore, the statement says, even though the Defendant falsely stated to the Postal employee that no hazardous materials were in the package, it was clear when he received the package that it was already sealed and that it was too “tenuous” to believe that Defendant knew that the package contained drugs.
The government also did not offer evidence that Defendant knew that his brother-in-law was involved in a criminal scheme.
According to the statement, “jurors were instructed that mere association with conspirators, or even knowledge that a conspiracy exists, does not make one a conspirator.”
Government had not proven that Defendant was part of an agreement with other persons to commit crime of trafficking drugs or that he knew the packaged contained drugs. That he agreed to do a favor for his brother-in-law and send a package for him does not infer that he conspired to send illegal drugs to Palau.
In acquitting Defendant Gates, Court stated that Palau Constitution mandates that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and no person should be convicted of an offense “unless each element of the offense is proven beyond reasonable doubt” and that the court decision to acquit upholds the fundamental principles of Palau’s criminal justice. (L.N. Reklai)