RECENT POSSESSION – THEFT

S v MOTHWA 2016 (2) SACR 489 (SCA)

Theft — Proof of — Doctrine of recent possession — When to be applied — Not limited to specific period but dependent on circumstances and particularly nature of property — Money and motor vehicles easily circulated.

The appellant was found in possession of a motor vehicle three days after it had been taken in the course of a robbery from a man who had rented the vehicle from a car-hire company. The appellant testified that he had been asked to take the car to Botswana by one Charles. This person told him that it belonged to his nephew and gave to him the registration papers as well as an affidavit permitting him to drive it. The registration details of the vehicle had been changed since the robbery. In convicting the appellant on a charge of robbery, the court a quo relied on the doctrine of recent possession. It appeared that no investigation had been conducted to verify the information provided by the appellant.

Held, that there was no rule about what length of time qualified as recent for the purposes of the doctrine of recent possession. It depended on the circumstances generally and, more particularly, on the nature of the property stolen. Properties such as money and motor vehicles were easily circulated.

Held, further, that the fact that the appellant was arrested three days after the robbery and had immediately given an explanation for his possession to the investigating officer, which was supported by other documents, made his version more probable. The evidence of the appellant at the trial had also been clear, consistent and straightforward and could not be rejected as not being reasonably possibly true. In the circumstances the state had failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the appeal against the conviction of robbery had to succeed.

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