A man who was convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment for car theft, had his sentence overturned after it was found that police had no evidence linking him to the crime and they gave contradicting statements during trial.
Madimetsa Marema successfully appealed his conviction in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.
Marema was arrested at his house in Olievenhoutbosch in November 2017 after a red Lexus that was reported stolen a week earlier, was found parked next to his house.
According to Marema, his friend, identified as Lusana, came to his home one evening driving a red Lexus. There was a baby seat in the car and Lusana removed it and left it at Marema’s house.
They then drove to Mooiplaas to pick up their girlfriends and came back to Olievenhoutbosch.
Marema said Lusana then left the car with him as there was no parking space at his house. He said this was not odd, as Lusana drove different cars. He also didn’t find it weird for Lusana to remove the baby seat as he had children.
The next day, police came to his house and told him that the car was reported stolen, he told police that the car was not his, but belonged to his friend.
During trial, the arresting officers gave conflicting statements, however, the Regional Court concluded that the very feature of dissonance in their versions indicates that they had not rehearsed their testimony or colluded a narrative against Marema.
In his appeal, Marema submitted that the trial court erred in accepting the versions of the police officers in the face of a multitude of contradictions.
Furthermore, he added that the court erred in ignoring the fact that he took the officers to Lusana’s home and they failed to attach any weight to this fact.
After hearing the appeal, Judge David Makhoba and Acting Judge Irene de Vos said the court must be convinced that Marema is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judges said the court cannot reject Marema’s version solely on the basis that it was improbable, but only once the trial court has found, on credible evidence, that the explanation is false.
During trial, the Regional Court said common sense dictates that if one sees a friend in a motor vehicle for the first time, one would be expected to make enquiries about the car before keeping it at their place.
In the appeal, it was said that it was true that Marema’s version presents him as suspicious, lacking in common sense, possibly overly complacent, inactive, incurious and strange.
However, it was held that Marema’s failure to ask questions only renders his behaviour suspicious, and a suspicious explanation is not the equivalent of a false explanation, and his explanation cannot be rejected for being suspicious – only if it is found to be false.
It was also heard how the arresting officers contradicted each other and also on material issues, contradicted themselves.
“There are many more contradictions between the evidence of the two officers ... whether Marema provided the officers with Lusana’s number, whether Marema called Lusana ... The trial court failed to deal with these contradictions,” said the judges.
It was further added that the contradictions were so many that they cast doubt on the reliability of the evidence.
The court said the contradictions are material and it can’t be concluded that they are immaterial as these contradictions cast doubt on whether the State managed to build a strong case against Marema.
Based on the evidence, the judges said they are not persuaded that Marema was guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
“The basis for this belief is that Marema’s version, although suspicious, is reasonably possibly true. In addition, the evidence of the officers gave against it was so contradictory that the court could not rely on their evidence,” said the judges.