Illegally obtained confession leads to setting aside of murder conviction
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) on Tuesday set aside a murder conviction and sentence imposed on a Pretoria man‚ because of the unlawful manner in which a confession was obtained from him.
Lefu Jantjie Bakane and three other men were found guilty in 2009 of the murder of Johannes Albertus Maré in Pretoria in June 2004.
The Pretoria High Court sentenced Bakane to life imprisonment for the murder.
Bakane and his co-accused had pleaded not guilty to the murder‚ and elected to exercise their right to remain silent.
During the trial‚ the defence objected to the admission of statements purportedly made by Bakane and his co-accused.
The defence claimed that the police invented the contents and forced Bakane to sign the statement without explaining the contents thereof.
In his judgment in 2009‚ the then-acting judge in the Pretoria High Court‚ Natvarnal Ranchod‚ referred to how the statement was obtained from the accused.
“We accept that some slapping and rough handling took place. The slapping could be classified as assault‚ but not torture‚” Ranchod said‚ when he accepted the tainted “confession” purportedly made by Bakane.
Bakane and his co-accused appealed their conviction and sentence before the full bench of the High Court in Pretoria.
In 2015‚ two judges dismissed their appeal‚ but another judge found that the confessions should have been excluded in the first place‚ when the trial court found that the appellants were assaulted.
“Obviously‚ without the confessions‚ the convictions collapse‚” acting judge K Manamela said in his dissenting 2015 judgment.
Bakane applied for special leave to appeal to the SCA.
In its judgment on Tuesday‚ the SCA said that in convicting Bakane‚ the trial court accepted the admissions to be true‚ and rejected Bakane’s explanation of where he was when the murder was committed.
“Thus the main issue on appeal is whether it was correct for the trial court to have admitted into evidence the appellant’s statement‚ and to convict the appellant on it‚” judge of appeal Baratang Mocumie said‚ summarising the case before the full bench.
Mocumie said it was known that the police assaulted Bakane and obtained a statement from him‚ despite his election not to make a statement.
She said it appeared that Bakane was hoodwinked into making a statement which he consciously did not want to make.
“The conclusion is ineluctable – that he did not know what was written in exhibit H until he was challenged on its contents in court‚ as he maintained throughout the trial.”
Mocumie said it was of great concern that this case was compromised from the onset by the manner in which the police investigated it.
She said breaches of a number of constitutional rights in this case – rights which were supposed to be common knowledge in the police force since the advent of our democracy – were still happening.
She added: “It is more important now than ever‚ taking into account the violent history of our country‚ for trial courts to be more vigilant [in upholding] the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights‚ at the risk of abomination from society.”