Vilma Yoshiwo, former Airai State Government Procurement Officer, convicted for Violations of Code of Ethics, Theft of Government Property in the First Degree, and Misconduct in Office, had her convictions reversed on appeal and her case remanded for a new trial.
On her appeal, Yoshiwo argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict her on the three counts and that the Trial Division violated her constitutional right to counsel.
The Appellate Court did not address her claim of insufficiency of evidence but ruled that the Trial Division violated Yoshiwo’s right to counsel.
At her November 2021 trial, during a short break after her defense counsel’s direct examination and before the Republic’s cross-examination, Justice Rudimch did not allow Yoshiwo to go outside to confer with her attorney.
The Appellate court ruled that Palau Constitution specifies the right to counsel “at all times” in a criminal proceeding and that Trial Court violated Yoshiwo’s right to counsel when it prevented her from speaking to her attorney during the brief break during the trial.
Republic raised the concern of potential “coaching of defendant-witnesses,” and the court acknowledged the concern but said “there are other ways to deal with the problem of possible improper influence on testimony or “coaching” of a defendant-client.”
The Appellate Court reversed the convictions and sent the case back to Trial Division for a new trial.