Drunk driving should have minimum sentence - magistrate while sentencing driver to jail

2018-06-25 14:25
Magistrate's Court (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Magistrate's Court (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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The legislature should start thinking about applying minimum sentences for drunk driving cases – as it does with murder and other serious crimes, a Durban magistrate said on Monday, in ordering that a drunk driver must go to jail.

Magistrate Phumlani Bhengu sentenced Hillcrest personal trainer Stephan Bothma to three years imprisonment in terms of legislation which specifies that he must serve one-sixth – six months – behind bars, and the balance under house arrest.

He was also fined R10 000 or 10 months, half of which was suspended.

Earlier this year, Bothma pleaded guilty to drunk driving and failing to perform the duties of a driver by fleeing the scene, after he crashed at high speed into the back of a car.

He said he had been drinking shooters and beers at the rugby and, although he did not intend to drive, his phone battery had gone flat and he could not call for a lift.

He was arrested 30km away from the accident scene in Hillcrest when his car apparently broke down.

'Left crippled'

Two sisters, who were in the backseat of the car he crashed into, were seriously injured.

Varsha Maharaj, a candidate attorney, suffered brain injuries and newlywed Taariqa Archary, an electronic engineer, was left quadriplegic.

It was because of these injuries, the magistrate said, that he had deviated from the non-custodial sentence "norm" for a first offender on a drunk driving charge.

Bothma's legal team fought to keep him out of jail, pointing to case law in which offenders had either been given fines and suspended sentences or, as was suggested in this case, a sentence of correctional supervision under which he would be subjected to house arrest and undergo rehabilitation programmes.

The magistrate said Bothma had driven that night even though he knew he was drunk. He had not explained why he could not borrow a phone to make that call.

He said Bothma's claim that he was completely unaware of the accident was "unbelievable", considering that it was so serious that the car had to be cut open to free those who were trapped inside.

"Two educated members of society were left 'crippled'.

"What has happened to them cannot be reversed," he said.

'Drunk driving not taken seriously'

Statistics showed that South Africa had one of the highest drunk driving incident rates in the world.

"Our roads are the most dangerous in the world," he said, pointing out that the Road Accident Fund had paid out R28bn in claims in 2015 and that in the matter before him, the claims would run into many millions of rands.

"This is all because one person who drank decided to drive, even though he was not fit to do so.

"It is my view that drunk driving cases are not being taken seriously."

Bothma applied for and was granted leave to appeal against the prison sentence. His bail was extended.

Taariqa Archary and her husband Hamresin said they were "okay" with the sentence.

"I think the magistrate is sending a strong message that you will go to jail, even if no one died in the accident. I think we have made a difference," Hamresin said.

Caro Smith of South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD) said she believed the sentence was not harsh enough.

"The victims have no rights. He can appeal, they can't," she said.

Read more on:    durban  |  courts  |  crime

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