Koror, Palau –Appellant, Vilma Yoshiwo (Yoshiwo), former Airai State Government Procurement Officer, was previously convicted on November 11, 2021, of Misconduct in Public Office, a violation of the Code of Ethics, and Theft of Government Property in the First Degree. On appeal, Appellant claimed the evidence was insufficient to justify her convictions on the three counts and her constitutional right to counsel was violated by the Trial Division.
Without reaching the questions on insufficiency of the evidence, the Appellate Division concluded the Trial Division violated Yoshiwo’s right to counsel when Yoshiwo was precluded from speaking with her attorney during a short break. The break was requested by defense counsel after Yoshiwo’s direct examination by defense counsel and before Yoshiwo’s cross examination by the Republic. While the Appellate Court noted “the legitimate concern the Republic raises regarding the potential coaching of defendant-witnesses,” which the Trial Court referred to as well, the Appellate Court believed there were other ways to deal with it without “putting a barrier between client and counsel.”
This was a case of first impression for the Palau Supreme Court, and the Court delivered an 11-page Opinion discussing the right to counsel under the Palauan Constitution. The case is remanded to the Trial Division for a new trial consistent with the Opinion. The Opinion will be posted on the Palau Supreme Court website and the OSP website at https://www.palauosp.org/.
April Dawn Cripps, Special Prosecutor for the Republic of Palau, will retry the case together with G. Midth Bells, Assistant Special Prosecutor, when the case is placed back on the trial docket.
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