Liberia: Did Cllr. Syrenius Cephus Mislead the Senate on the Ellen Corkrum’s Case? Legal Pundits Raise Eyebrow

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According to Cllr. Cephas, the Nolle Persequi was only intended to terminate the court proceeding but the charges against the defendants in the case

MONROVIA – Solicitor General Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus has told members of the Liberian Senate that the decision of the Ministry of Justice to nolle persequi (dropping of charges) the case against Ellen Corkrum is only intended to terminate the proceeding, but not the action (charges).

“A nolle prosequi acts as an open-ended deferment or postponement of criminal charges contained in an indictment against a defender; it keeps the matter in abeyance, and it is not an acquittal – it temporarily terminates the proceedings but not the action or actions, and it does not bar the government from reopening the case against the defendants and charging them with the same crimes,” he argued.

He said, both the court and the Ministry of Justice terminated the proceedings against Musa Bility, LBDI and Corkrum but kept the charges which included felonious crimes charged against them in the indictment in abeyance.

By this, he justified the reason for which prosecutors sought a Writ of Ne Exeat Republic on all Ms. Corkrum and all others indicted in the case.

But legal pundits find Cllr. Cephas legal reasoning ludicrous and contradictory to law. “By that explanation he misled the Senate and that should not be taken lightly. You cannot not nolle persequi a case and then you say you have not dropped charges,” a legal luminary who preferred being anonymous argued.

According to the Black Law Dictionary, nolle persequi is a formal entry upon the record, by the plaintiff in a civil suit or the prosecuting officer in a criminal action, by which he declares that he “will no further prosecute” the case, either as to some of the counts, or some of the defendants, or altogether.

It can be recalled that when the nolle persequi was granted by Judge Nancy F. Sammy of Criminal Court ‘C’ in last December she said, “This Court says that the Republic of Liberia has the responsibility and obligation to institute all criminal charges against an accused person. In keeping with this responsibility, they also have the responsibility to prosecute all crimes in this country. Since it is the Republic of Liberia that indicted the movant and it is the same Republic of Liberia that has come and entered or requested the court to Nolle Prosequoi this case, this court hereby grants the said motion in keeping with Section 18.1 of the criminal Procedure Law.”

Nolle prosequi acts as an open-ended deferment or postponement of criminal charges contained in an indictment against a defender; it keeps the matter in abeyance, and it is not an acquittal – it temporarily terminates the proceedings but not the action or actions, and it does not bar the government from reopening the case against the defendants and charging them with the same crimes.”

– Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus, Solicitor General

By this, legal pundits argue that contrary to Cllr. Cephus presentation to the Senate, the indictment against Ms. Corkrum was officially dismissed by the court.

The indictment was dismissed in line with Section 18.1 of the Criminal Procedure Law which states “The prosecuting attorney may by leave of court file a dismissal of an indictment or complaint or of a count contained therein as to either all or some of the defendants. The prosecution shall thereupon terminate to the extent indicated in the dismissal.”

Was Justice Minister in the Know?

Cllr. Cephus told the Senators that it was the Justice Minister/Attorney General, Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, that sanction the dropping of charges against Corkrum though Cllr. Dean has insisted he was not consulted on the matter.

According to the Solicitor General, prior to the filing of the motion to Molle Prosequi the case, the prosecuting attorney, Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh visited Cllr. Dean’s office and told him about the motion and the action that would be taken. Cephus said, Cllr. Dean remarked, “You go ahead and do it”. 

Cllr. Cephus, “This was not done in a vexing mood, instead, Cllr. Wesseh indicated that Professor Dean was in a relaxed mood siting behind his desk. Cllr. Wesseh is available and can testify to this allegation when invited to do so.”

However, Cllr. Cephus further argued that Section 18.1 of Title 2 Liberian Codes of Law Revised does not create the condition where every prosecuting attorney in the field acting pursuant to the power vested in him/her will first seek his or the permission of the Justice Minister to enter a prosecution without prejudice to the State.

Cllr. Cephus: “This is not a suggestion that the Minister of Justice should not be in the know of matters undertaken by a prosecuting attorney. No, far from it. Administratively, he must be presented report indicating the action taken and the reason for same, if any. My suggestion is that he may be briefed either before or after the action is taken and then follow by a written report on the anticipated step being taken.”

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