Top court slashes drug dealer’s heavy sentence

15 March 2018 - 16:06 By Ernest Mabuza
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The Constitutional Court has reduced the 15-year sentence handed down to a drug manufacturer and dealer to 12 years.

This was because the state‚ in its evidence during the trial‚ did not prove the market value of the drugs to enable the court to impose the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act demands that courts should impose prescribed minimum sentences determined by the legislature for a number of crimes‚ unless compelling circumstances justify a lesser sentence.

The Alexandra Regional Court in Johannesburg found Michael Klaas‚ a retired pharmacologist‚ guilty of manufacturing of drugs and of dealing in drugs in 2013.

Police had found 2‚920 tablets at his home in Morningside. Police also found a big book with documents and a chemistry book with hand-written formulas of how to make a drug known as methaqualone‚ also known as mandrax.

In 2013 the regional court sentenced Klaas to five years for manufacturing drugs and the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years for dealing in drugs. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently.

The High Court in Johannesburg dismissed his application petition for leave to appeal against his conviction and sentence. The Supreme Court of Appeal also dismissed his petition for leave to appeal.

He then applied to the Constitutional Court against conviction and sentence.

The case was dealt with by the Constitutional Court without a hearing.

The Constitutional Court said it was satisfied that Klaas was correctly convicted.

However‚ the court said it appeared Klaas did not appear to have had a fair trial when it came to sentencing.

It said in terms of the Criminal Law Amendment Act‚ a minimum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment was applicable for an offence where it was proved that the value of drugs produced was more than R50‚000.

The court said the provisions of the minimum sentence legislation had been brought to the attention of Klaas when he pleaded.

“However‚ the State did not present evidence to prove the market value of the drugs seized at the applicant’s property before conviction in order for the minimum sentencing legislation to be applicable‚” said Justice Nonkosi Mhlantla in a unanimous judgment.

In reducing his sentence by three years‚ the court relied on a statement from a Western Cape High Court judgment on a drug conviction in which it said it was “in cases like these that the interests of society demands a harsh sentence in order to be protected” from the impact of drug dealing.

“Only a long sentence of long term imprisonment is called for. Therefore the appropriate sentence to be imposed in these circumstances is 12 years’ imprisonment.”

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