S v HEWITT 2017 (1) SACR 309 (SCA)

Sentence — Factors to be taken into account — Celebrated status of accused — Constitution decreeing equality before law, which knew of no class distinction.

Rape — Sentence — Factors to be taken into account — Celebrated status of accused and effect of his fall from grace — Former champion tennis player and coach convicted of raping two girls entrusted to his care and of indecently assaulting another — Accused 75 years old at time of conviction — Sentence of imprisonment for six years upheld.


The appellant, a 75-year-old renowned champion tennis player and coach, was convicted of having raped two girls in the 1980s (12 and 13 years old) and of having indecently assaulted a 17-year-old girl in 1994, all of whom he coached. He was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for each of the counts of rape and to two years’ imprisonment for the indecent assault, with the sentences ordered to run concurrently. A further two years of each of the rape counts were suspended on condition that he pay a sum of R100 000 to a fund for the combating of abuse of women and children. The effective sentence was accordingly one of six years’ imprisonment. He appealed against the sentence and contended that it was startlingly inappropriate. It was submitted inter alia that the incarceration of such an individual was improper because his fall from grace (and the pain of the trial) was in itself sufficient punishment, as he had ‘already learnt his lesson’.

Held, that the submission overlooked the basic tenets of the Constitution which decreed equality before the law, which knew of no class distinction of offender of the proposed nature. The appellant’s erstwhile celebrated status did not therefore earn him a special sentence.


Held, further, despite it being regrettable that it took so long to bring the appellant to justice, it was not an unusual phenomenon in this type of case and, despite the obvious difficulties posed by the delays, the courts had ably delivered just decisions. The sentences fitted the criminal and the crime and fairly balanced the competing interests. Although the element of rehabilitation bore little relevance because of the appellant’s age, the sentences would still serve the other important purposes of sentencing, namely deterrence and retribution. The court therefore had no right to interfere and the appeal had to be dismissed.


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