Woman's conviction for fraud overturned

AN Ipswich woman who was found guilty of repeatedly forging and altering documents and sentenced to four years in jail has had her conviction overturned in the state's highest court.

Janelle Marie Hartfiel, 34, was found guilty in the Ipswich District Court last year of two counts of forgery and three counts of uttering forged documents.

The court heard Hartfiel convinced her brother to take out a mortgage on his house to help pay debt on the One Mile house where she and their parents lived.

During the four-day trial a jury heard Hartfiel altered documents saying she had repaid the mortgage when she in fact had not.

She convinced her brother to use his house as collateral on the loan and him a forged title deed stating the debt had been paid.

Defence barrister Angus Edwards argued in the Queensland Court of Appeal that the trial judge eared when directing jurors before they started their deliberations to determine her fate.

He said the judge did not tell jurors that no adverse inference could be drawn from the fact that Hartfiel did not give evidence at the trial and that by not doing so did not strengthen the prosecution case, supply additional proof against her or fill in gaps in the evidence.

Hartfiel called evidence, but did not give evidence at her trial.

Queensland Court of Appeal president Margaret McMurdo said the trial judge's lack of warning to the jury against concluding that because Hartfiel had not given evidence herself, it had in some way strengthened the prosecution case was sufficient grounds for the court to overturn the convictions.

"The failure in this case to give such a direction constituted a fundamental irregularity in the trial," she said.

"It has the result that the appellant (Hartfiel) did not receive a fair trial."

The court ordered the guilty verdicts be overturned and a new trial be conducted.


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