MENTAL CAPACITY OF ACCUSED DURING PLEA

Sewnarain v S and another [2016] 2 All SA 593 (KZP)

Criminal law – Murder – Plea of guilty – Whether accused was in his sound and sober senses when he pleaded guilty – Credibility of accused brought into question by failure to disclose vital evidence in founding affidavits and feeding of misinformation to medical experts – Court finding accused to have been in sound and sober senses when pleading guilty.

Pursuant to his plea of guilty, the appellant was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He had admitted to having hired men to stage a hijacking, and to kill his wife. In the present application in terms of section 22(1)(c) of the Supreme Court Act 59 of 1959, he sought to review and set aside his conviction and sentence on the grounds of gross irregularities in the proceedings in the regional court. He also relied on a broad interpretation of section 22 of the Act on the basis of fairness of the proceedings under the Constitution.

According to the applicant, he was not in his sound and sober senses when he pleaded guilty, due to medication which he had taken and the grief he was suffering as a result of his wife’s death.

Held – The scope of the review was reduced to the singular issue of the applicant’s state of mind when he pleaded guilty. The appellant adduced medical evidence in support of his allegation regarding his impaired mental state.

The Court found that the applicant had omitted to disclose vital evidence in his founding affidavits. That evidence emerged from affidavits for the first respondent. Noting the duty of disclosure resting on the applicant, the Court held that such material non-disclosure was destructive of the applicant’s credibility from the outset, and persisted in the applicant’s engagement of expert witnesses and providing them with misinformation. That rendered the medical reports unhelpful.

Finding that the applicant was in his sound and sober senses when he pleaded guilty, the Court dismissed the application for review.

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