Liquor cops fail the taste test

18 September 2011 - 03:06

A Durban man has been cleared of illegally selling beer after convincing the court that the state had failed to prove that 125 sealed bottles seized by police contained alcohol.

Tavern owner Vusi Msomi, 48, was last year sentenced in the Tongaat Magistrate's Court to a R5000 fine or two years' jail after being found guilty of illegally dealing in liquor. Half the sentence was suspended for five years.

Msomi's lawyers appealed against the conviction.

Last week, the High Court in Pietermaritzburg overturned the conviction after finding that the prosecution had failed to prove that the sealed beer bottles contained alcohol.

Legal experts this week said the high court ruling would influence future criminal cases involving the illegal sale of alcohol and public drinking.

The state, according to the experts, would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that confiscated bottles, although sealed and labelled, contained alcohol.

Commenting on the case, criminal law expert Rajendra Natalal said: "There is no presumption that the alcohol confiscated by the police is, in fact, alcohol. The police have to make sure evidence is sent for analysis."

Msomi was arrested last year after he allegedly sold a sealed quart of beer to an undercover police officer. Police then confiscated his consignment of 125 quarts, which later went missing.

Msomi's lawyer, Theasan Pillay, who appealed against the conviction, argued that because the state had failed to prove the existence of alcohol in the quarts, "it could not be accepted as fact that Msomi was dealing in liquor". The court agreed.

Yesterday, Pillay said the judgment "placed a huge evidential burden on the state". "Now the contents of the bottle must be tested and proven to have contained alcohol to secure a conviction," he said. Msomi plans to sue the state for his missing quarts.