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Release blanket thief, orders judge

The Pretoria High Court has ordered the immediate release of a 19-year-old Limpopo youth who was sent to prison for a year for housebreaking and the theft of three blankets worth R420.

Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann, in his judgment, stressed that jail was not the standard and very often decidedly not the most appropriate sentence to impose on a youthful first offender.

“The accused may now have become indifferent to imprisonment, hostile to the society that sent him there and on the road to becoming as hardened a criminal as the persons he encountered in the correctional institution. If so, the sentence imposed upon him was utterly counterproductive,” he said.

Mpho Phafula earlier – no dates were given – pleaded guilty to housebreaking and taking the three blankets. He was a first offender, but the magistrate’s court in the rural area of Soutpansberg, in Limpopo, sentenced him to a year of direct imprisonment.

The matter later went on review to the high court, where the judge asked the magistrate if he had considered any other sentence and why no presentencing report was obtained.

During sentencing only a few issues were raised – his age, status as an unemployed orphan and the absence of any wish to continue his education, Judge Bertelsmann said.

In reply to the judge’s questions, the magistrate emphasised the seriousness of the crime, the invasion of the victim’s privacy and the fact that the accused acted with intent.

Judge Bertelsmann said this was no more than a definition of the crime he was charged with.

The magistrate also said that no presentencing report was obtained as he did not view the accused as a minor.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, asked by the judge to assist in the matter, agreed that a presiding officer must obtain all relevant facts before sentencing a youthful offender to direct imprisonment. Judge Bertelsmann said correctional supervision should have at least been investigated in this case as a potential sentencing option.

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