SANE AUTOMATISM – AMNESIA INDUCED BY ALCOHOL, DRUGS

S v RAMDASS 2017 (1) SACR 30 (KZD)

General principles of liability — Criminal capacity — Sane automatism — Amnesia — Induced by alcohol and drugs — Proof of — Accused, described as humble and gentle person, having killed woman he was intending to marry — Accused appearing confused on following morning and unaware of what he had done — Accused acquitted.

General principles of liability — Criminal capacity — Sane automatism — Amnesia — Induced by alcohol and drugs — Competent verdict — Contravention of s 1(1) of Criminal Law Amendment Act 1 of 1988 — Difficulties with convicting accused of statutory offence in certain circumstances unable to be solved without legislative intervention.

 

The accused was charged with the murder of his girlfriend with whom he lived and whom he was planning to marry. On the day of the deceased’s death, the accused and the deceased, as well as the deceased’s mother, who also lived in the same house, went to a shopping mall and had lunch. On the way home they dropped the accused at a tavern. The accused returned homelater, looking intoxicated. He and the deceased then went out, possibly to buy drugs, and returned before the deceased’s mother went out to a casino. When she returned home she found the house ransacked and her daughter lying with a plastic bag over her head. She was already dead. The accused was found the next morning in Umhlanga Rocks. He looked disorientated and smelt of liquor. He had no knowledge of the death of the deceased and claimed at the trial that this was because of the combination of alcohol and crack cocaine. The evidence for the state was that the accused was a humble and gentle person, and good to the deceased and her mother. Her mother testified that they were a happy couple and, although they argued from time to time, she regarded this as normal. There was no evidence of any argument or other unpleasantness before the deceased’s mother left for the casino.

Counsel for the state contended that the accused could not have been so intoxicated that he lacked criminal capacity, having regard to his actions when he left the house: he would have had to unlock and open the front door and security gate, open the driveway gate, drive the car out, close the gate and then drive to the city centre. He had also taken the deceased’s phone, camera charger and GPS device.

Held, that there was need for caution in too readily finding that a person who had killed someone was not criminally responsible because he acted involuntarily or without criminal capacity, as this may bring the administration of justice into disrepute. This, however, did not mean that the court could shirk its duty to determine whether the guilt of an accused person had been established beyond a reasonable doubt. If there were a reasonable doubt as to his criminal capacity, then he had to get the benefit of that doubt. (Paragraph [29] at 40h.)

Held, further, that the accused had established a sufficient foundation for the defence of lack of criminal capacity. The evidence regarding their relationship; that they were planning to get married; the absence of any motive to kill the deceased; the fact that the accused was regarded as a gentle and humble person; that what he did was completely out of character; that he had consumed alcohol and smoked crack cocaine; and that he could not remember what he had done when he was found in Umhlanga the following morning, and still had the bag with the items which he had taken from the house and did not try to hide it, raised a reasonable doubt whether he had the required capacity when he strangled the deceased. There was no expert evidence to suggest that it was likely that he did so, well knowing that what he was doing was wrong.

Held, further, that the court could not — as the state suggested — find that the accused was instead guilty of culpable homicide, as it too required that he was able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct and to act in accordance with such appreciation.

Held, further, that the difficulty with the statutory offence of contravening s 1(1) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1 of 1988 was the requirement that the accused must have been so drunk that he lacked criminal capacity. In the case where an accused is acquitted on a charge of murder on the basis that there was a reasonable possibility that he was so drunk that he lacked the required capacity, he could not be convicted of the statutory offence unless the court could find beyond reasonable doubt that he did not have such capacity. This difficulty had been pointed out more than once by the courts and academic writers and it was up to the legislature to decide whether or not the statute should be amended. The accused was accordingly acquitted.

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