Court Week [1/5]

Photo: http://www.cultofmac.com

Today we went off to the Johannesburg Magistrates Court to get acquainted with courts and to see our justice system at work.

We began the day by looking at the roll for the day to see which cases/trials  we would want to watch and cover for the day. We were all tasked with finding one interesting case and reporting on it by our 6pm deadline.

It was a bit tricky finding the right court to attend but by midday we had found a few interesting cases and trials to cover. Today we went off in little groups so we could all struggle together, hopefully we all learnt enough today to brave the corridors by ourselves come Wednesday.

We had to be back at the department at 4pm so we could all submit by 6pm. It took me a while to decide which case I would write about because they were all interesting in their own way. We had two drunken driving ones, tax evasion and theft.

What I wanted to write about was a refugee from Mozambique who was charged with theft (he stole a Woolies trolley) and not having any “lawful” identification documents. I didn’t knew that foreigners are obliged to carry some sort of identification on their person at all times or face arrest when they don’t. It seems very 1952 to me. His case made me even more sad when he was sentenced to more jail time because he couldn’t possibly afford the R3000 fine required of him for both “crimes”.

Anyway I ended up not having enough solid information to write that story, so I wrote this one instead:

DIVERSION – A LITTLE KNOWN PLEA

*Names changed to protect identities

Pheladi Sethusa

Guilty or not guilty are not the only choices when a plea is being made in court. People accused of small misdemeanours can plead diversion, which is a plea of no contest against the charges being made.

Thomas* (30) from Berea pleaded diversion to charges of drunken driving earlier today in the Johannesburg Magistrates Court. Diversion is normally only granted to people who commit low value crimes, like shoplifting or possession of a small amount of drugs said his lawyer, James*.

James said that Thomas deserved a diversion because, “he is a taxi driver, a Zulu and a South African.”

The magistrate was not impressed with this argument, saying that his nationality should not divert from the crime committed. To this James replied that it is indeed a mitigating factor in getting his bail dropped.

James claimed that his client could not afford the bail amount which was set at R1000. “Are you taking this on as a pro bono case, Mr James?”, “No I am not,” replied James. The magistrate went on to ask how Thomas could then afford legal counsel but not meet bail.

James asked for Thomas to be allowed to enter the diversion programme. Diversion can only be granted when a person does not deny the charges being made against them, explained James.

The magistrate released Thomas on a warning and told him he can go ahead and enroll for the diversion programme as requested by his lawyer. He would have to come back on May 27 to find out how many hours he would have to serve in the programme.

The diversion programme is run in conjunction with the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA). The programme aims to rehabilitate people who are enrolled.

Once the hours stipulated by the court have been completed, Sibiya must come back to court with evidence thereof. Then his record will be cleared and he won’t have a criminal record to his name.

That is all for today, I am bushed and I have an episode of Isibaya to watch.

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