Category Archives: Criminal Law

A dent on your record?

A1_bAngela, a normal middle-aged woman with a basic salary has just landed herself in a load of trouble, which could possibly cause her not to go on holiday to Mauritius with her family in December. Angela went to the shop to buy bread before fetching her teenage son from school. As she opened the car door the typical Cape Town wind slammed the door into the passenger door of the car parked next to her, leaving a big dent. What to do? Can she just ignore the incident and park her car in another spot? Isn’t that what most people would do?

In the case of S v Mpho Vincent Mutobvu 2013 (2) SACR 366 (GNP), Mr Mutobvu reversed his motor vehicle from a parking bay when he scratched another parked vehicle. He thought the other vehicle was not damaged and therefore drove home. Unbeknown to him, a security guard observed the incident and took down his car’s registration number. The complainant tracked Mr Mutobvu through his registration number and contacted him. She informed him that she had already reported the matter to her local police station. He inspected her vehicle, and conceded that he was responsible for the damage and paid R6 000 for her car to be repaired. She then went with him to get the charge withdrawn. They were told that he had to pay R500 before the charge could be withdrawn, which he accepted to be his “fine”. Mr Mutobvu was under the impression that this was the end of the matter.

Shortly after the incident Mr Mutobvu had an interview for a new job at a mining company. It was then that he was informed that he could not get the job on account of his criminal record. What criminal record? He went to the Criminal Records Centre in Pretoria and was informed that what he had thought was a R500 fine, was actually an admission of guilt in terms of Section 57 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977. Mr Mutobvu had admitted to the contravention of Section 61 (1) (a) of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act 93 of 1966 – failure to stop after an accident. His criminal record would only be expunged after 10 years. Mr Mutobvu then applied for a special review as he knew he did not deserve this 10-year criminal record.

In S v Cedras 1992 (2) SACR 530 C at 531j – 532b the following was held regarding a court’s approach to a review:

“In such cases the question must always be whether there are considerations of equity and fair dealing which compel the court to intervene to prevent a probable failure of justice. There must be evidence before the court showing the likelihood of such inequity, should it not intervene. A court must be satisfied that the admission of guilt was probably mistaken or incorrect and the accused or other person deposing on oath on his behalf must give a satisfactory explanation as to how the admission of guilt came to be mistakenly or erroneously made. Good cause must be established for condoning the error or mistake in making the admission of guilt. It must be established that, were the charge to go to trial, the accused would have a probable or arguable defence to the charge and that his deemed conviction or sentence is, accordingly, probably not in accordance with justice.”

Mr Mutobvu stated that he did not have any legal representation when he unknowingly admitted to the guilt charge which resulted in the criminal record. He also stated that he had paid the damages and that the complainant had accepted that the charge be removed. The court stated that “in all circumstances, I would set aside the payment of the admission of guilt fine and subsequent conviction and sentence and order that the fine paid be refunded to the accused”. Mr Mutobvu’s criminal record was erased and the R500 that he had to pay was refunded.

A criminal record is not something that people should take lightly. The first charge may not land you in jail, but it puts you in many other awkward situations. If Angela decides to drive away from her accident, she could also have a criminal record and that means no Mauritius holiday for her. Anyone with a criminal record will not be able to leave the country as they are seen as a danger, and it is almost impossible to find suitable employment. Something as simple as a car dent could change your entire life. My advice to Angela would be to wait for the owner of the vehicle or leave a note with her insurance details. Her situation is like a television license: pay it, it’s the right thing to do!

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Bail or not

A1_bPeople are often outraged when they hear of accused persons who have been released on bail. In this article the factors to be considered when deciding whether someone should be let out on bail or not will be discussed. This will allow us to better understand why someone has been released on bail or why they have not.

According to section 35(1)(f) of the Constitution[1] everyone who is arrested for allegedly committing an offence has the right to be released from detention if the interests of justice permit, subject to reasonable conditions. This provision sets out that the law cannot take away an innocent person’s freedom arbitrarily but recognises that in certain circumstances it may be in the interests of justice to take away or limit this freedom.[2]

The next question that arises is how we know when the refusal to grant bail is in the interests of justice. According to section 60(4) of the Criminal Procedure Act[3] (CPA) the interests of justice do not permit the release from detention of an accused where one or more of the following grounds are established:

  1. Where there is the likelihood that the accused, if released on bail, will endanger the safety of the public or any particular person or will commit certain offences;
  2. Where there is the likelihood that the accused, if released on bail, will attempt to evade trial;
  3. Where there is the likelihood that the accused, if released on bail, will attempt to influence, intimidate or conceal witnesses or destroy evidence;
  4. Where there is the likelihood that the accused, if released on bail, will undermine or jeopardise the objectives or the proper functioning of the criminal justice system, including the bail system;
  5. Where there is the likelihood that the release of the accused will disturb the public order or undermine the public peace or security.[4]

In considering whether the grounds in (a) to (e) above have been established various factors, which are set out in Sections 5 – 9 of the CPA, may be taken into consideration, which include the following:

  • the degree of violence towards others implicit in the charge;
  • the accused’s ties to the place at which he or she is to be tried;
  • assets and travel documents held by the accused;
  • the accused’s relationship with the witnesses and the extent to which they could be influenced;
  • whether the accused supplied false information during his or her arrest or bail proceedings;
  • any previous failure to comply with bail conditions or indications that he or she will not comply with any bail condition;
  • whether the nature of the offence or the circumstances under which the offence was committed is likely to induce a sense of shock or outrage in the community; and
  • whether the shock or outrage of the community might lead to public disorder if the accused is released.[5]

The court decides whether the accused should be let out on bail by weighing the interests of justice against the right of the accused to his or her personal freedom and in particular the prejudice he or she is likely to suffer if he or she were to be detained in custody, and must take into account, inter alia, the period for which the accused has been in custody; the probable period of detention until the end of the trial if bail is not granted; the reason for any delay in the trial and any fault on the part of the accused; any impediment to the preparation of the accused’s defence due to the detention of the accused, and the accused’s state of health.[6]

When dealing with Schedule 5 and 6 offences the accused will be detained in custody unless the accused can show the court that it is in the interests of justice or that exceptional circumstances exist which permit his or her release, respectively. [7]

We can see from this article that the court must weigh up many factors against each other and although we do not always understand why accused persons are released on bail, anyone would want a fair bail application if they found themselves in that same position.

Bibliography:

  • The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996
  • J Chaskalson & Y De Jong – Criminal (In)Justice in South Africa, 2009:86
  • The Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977

[1] The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

[2] J Chaskalson & Y De Jong – Criminal (In)Justice in South Africa, 2009:86.

[3] Section 60(4) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977.

[4] Section 60(4) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977.

[5] Section 60(5-9) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977.

[6] Section 60(10) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977.

[7] Section 60(11-12) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Steps of the criminal procedure

Blog_4The purpose of criminal procedure is to ensure the security and safety of the public through effective investigation of crimes so that criminals can be identified and brought to justice.

First the crime is reported to the police station. Thereafter the police opens a docket and the crime is investigated by the investigating officer. Next the docket is sent to Court and the prosecutor must make a decision as to whether further investigation is necessary. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) decides whether to prosecute or not. If the NPA decides not to prosecute, it is most likely because the case is not strong enough, for example if there is too little evidence available. If the NPA decides that the accused will be prosecuted, the case is sent to Court for indictment.

The prosecutor may decide on diversion of the case as an alternative decision. Diversion is a system for first time offenders charged with petty crimes. They are given a chance to do community service, pay for damages resulting from the crime, undergo treatment for alcohol or drug problems, and/or counselling for antisocial or mentally unstable behaviour. When the case is heard in Court, the accused may apply to be released on bail. The effect of bail is that an accused who is in custody is released from custody upon payment of the amount of money determined for his or her bail, or the furnishing of a guarantee to pay it. He/she must then appear at the place and on the date and at the stipulated time determined for his or her trial, or to which the proceedings relating to the offense of which the accused is released on bail. The Constitution provides for the following: “Everyone who is arrested for allegedly committing an offence has the right to be released from detention if the interests of justice permit, subject to reasonable conditions.”

At the start of a trial, the prosecutor states the charges laid against the accused. The accused then pleads to the charge, which might be guilty or not guilty. If the accused pleads not guilty, the case must proceed to trial. The matter may be postponed to obtain further evidence or to get a lawyer for the accused.

On the day of the trial the prosecutor will first call witnesses to testify so that it can be proved that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Thereafter the accused or his/her attorney will also call witnesses to testify or produce evidence. After both sides have been heard, the presiding officer must make a decision as to whether the accused is guilty or not. If the accused is found guilty, the accused will be sentenced by the presiding officer. The Court may consider other sentencing options besides imprisonment or fines. If sentenced to prison, the accused may be released on parole under certain circumstances.

Reference list:

  • Joubert, 2001, Criminal ProcedureHandbook.
  • TheNationalProsecuting Authority ofSouthAfrica, 2008, Understanding theCriminal Justice System.
  • The ConstitutionofSouthAfrica, 1996.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors & omissions excepted. (E&OE).

Steps of the criminal procedure

A4_bThe purpose of criminal procedure is to ensure the security and safety of the public through effective investigation of crimes so that criminals can be identified and brought to justice.

First the crime is reported to the police station. Thereafter the police opens a docket and the crime is investigated by the investigating officer. Next the docket is sent to Court and the prosecutor must make a decision as to whether further investigation is necessary. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) decides whether to prosecute or not. If the NPA decides not to prosecute, it is most likely because the case is not strong enough, for example if there is too little evidence available. If the NPA decides that the accused will be prosecuted, the case is sent to Court for indictment.

The prosecutor may decide on diversion of the case as an alternative decision. Diversion is a system for first time offenders charged with petty crimes. They are given a chance to do community service, pay for damages resulting from the crime, undergo treatment for alcohol or drug problems, and/or counselling for antisocial or mentally unstable behaviour. When the case is heard in Court, the accused may apply to be released on bail. The effect of bail is that an accused who is in custody is released from custody upon payment of the amount of money determined for his or her bail, or the furnishing of a guarantee to pay it. He/she must then appear at the place and on the date and at the stipulated time determined for his or her trial, or to which the proceedings relating to the offense of which the accused is released on bail. The Constitution provides for the following: “Everyone who is arrested for allegedly committing an offence has the right to be released from detention if the interests of justice permit, subject to reasonable conditions.”

At the start of a trial, the prosecutor states the charges laid against the accused. The accused then pleads to the charge, which might be guilty or not guilty. If the accused pleads not guilty, the case must proceed to trial. The matter may be postponed to obtain further evidence or to get a lawyer for the accused.

On the day of the trial the prosecutor will first call witnesses to testify so that it can be proved that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Thereafter the accused or his/her attorney will also call witnesses to testify or produce evidence. After both sides have been heard, the presiding officer must make a decision as to whether the accused is guilty or not. If the accused is found guilty, the accused will be sentenced by the presiding officer. The Court may consider other sentencing options besides imprisonment or fines. If sentenced to prison, the accused may be released on parole under certain circumstances.

Reference list:

  • Joubert, 2001, Criminal ProcedureHandbook.
  • TheNationalProsecuting Authority ofSouthAfrica, 2008, Understanding theCriminal Justice System.
  • The ConstitutionofSouthAfrica, 1996.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice

Provocation as defence in criminal law

A4_BCan an accused in a criminal trial use the defence that he was so infuriated that he did not know what he was doing?

In S v Eadie 2002 (1) SACR 663 (SCA), the Supreme Court of Appeal delivered a judgement which raised doubt whether the defence of non-pathological criminal incapacity is still available in our law.

The facts in this case were the following: X, a keen hockey player, consumed a large quantity of liquor at a social function. Late at night he got into his car and drove home. On the way Y, the driver of another vehicle, overtook X’s car and then drove very slowly in front of him in such a manner that X could not overtake him. After a while X did succeed in overtaking Y, who then drove at high speed behind X with his headlights on bright. The two cars then came to a halt. X, very angry, got out of his car, grabbed a hockey stick which happened to be in the car, walked to Y’s car and smashed the hockey stick to pieces against it. He then assaulted Y continuously, pulled him out of his car and continued to batter him outside the car while lying on the road. Y died as a result of the attack.

The above factual scenario demonstrates an incident known as “road rage”. On a charge of murder X relied on the defence of non-pathological criminal incapacity. The court rejected his defence and convicted him of murder.

The court discussed previous decisions dealing with this defence extensively, and then held (in par. 57 of the judgement) that there is no distinction between non-pathological criminal incapacity owing to emotional stress and provocation, on the one hand, and the defence of sane automatism, on the other. More specifically, there is, according to the court, no difference between the second (cognitive) leg of the test for criminal capacity (i.e. X’s ability to act in accordance with his appreciation of the wrongfulness of the act, in other words, his ability to resist temptation) and the requirement which applies to the conduct element of liability that X’s bodily movements must be voluntary. If X alleged that, as a result of provocation, his psyche had disintegrated to such an extent that he could no longer control himself, it amounts to an allegation that he could no longer control his movement and that he therefore acted involuntarily. Such a plea of involuntary conduct is nothing else than a defence of sane automatism.

The court did not hold that the defence of non-pathological criminal incapacity no longer exists, but in fact, made a number of statements which implied that the defence does still exist. At the same time, it nevertheless declared that if, as a result of provocation, an accused person relies on this defence, his defence should be treated as one of sane automatism (a defence which can also be described as a defence by X that he did not commit a voluntary act.) The court emphasised the well-known fact that a defence of sane automatism does not succeed easily, and is in fact rarely upheld.

After the Supreme Court of Appeal decision in Eadie, it is highly unlikely that an accused will succeed with an argument that, as a result of non-pathological criminal incapacity he acted voluntarily, but merely lacked criminal incapacity.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.