S v SD 2015 (2) SACR 363 (SCA)

Murder — Sentence — Imposition of — Factors to be taken into account — Young offender convicted on two counts of murder of adoptive parents and theft — Substance dependence problem mitigating factor — Youthfulness and influence of drugs — However, cannot fail to recognise severity of offences — Sentencing judge committed no misdirections — Well-considered balance of all interests involved — Interference on appeal unwarranted.

The appellant was 17 years and 8 months old when he killed his adoptive parents by brutally assaulting them. He was intoxicated at the time and had spent the day drinking and smoking crack cocaine. After he had hit them on the head with a cricket bat, he called a friend and asked him to help with disposal of the bodies. The friend did not want to assist him unless his parents were definitely dead, so the appellant then stabbed his parents approximately 20 times in the chest. The appellant also slit his father’s throat and they dumped the bodies in the veld. The High Court convicted the appellant of two counts of murder and sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment on each of the counts and to two years’ imprisonment in respect of theft, but ordered that the sentences were to run concurrently. On appeal the appellant contended that the sentence was shockingly inappropriate.
Held, that, when one looks at the offences and the interests of society, the court could come to only one conclusion, namely that the offences were so severe that incarceration could not be avoided. The cruel and savage way in which the appellant had killed two people who were kind to him, who sustained him from birth, who had tried to deal with his drug addiction, and who treated him as their own child, filled one with revulsion. Any sentence which failed to recognise the severity of the crimes could lead to society losing its confidence in the criminal justice system. Especially in a society where violence had become prevalent and endemic, one could simply not afford that risk.
Held, further, that it was clearly a mitigating factor that the appellant had a substance dependence problem and that at the crucial time he was under the influence of narcotic drugs. The diagnosis by some of the appellant’s experts who tended to blame it all on the influence of drugs, and their recommendation that the appellant should be committed for treatment, had to be considered from their perspective. Their purpose was to diagnose, to heal and to rehabilitate their patients and, as a rule, they did not have to consider the perspectives which the courts were obliged to keep in view. The courts’ functioning was quite different and, apart from rehabilitation, they needed to have regard to other interests, such as prevention and rehabilitation. To focus exclusively on the wellbeing of the accused was likely to result in a distorted and warped sentence.
Held, further, that the sentencing judge had committed no misdirections