JOHANNESBURG - The Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled that minimum sentencing legislation in cases involving drug manufacturing or drug dealing cannot apply where the State has not proved the market value of the drugs.

Convicted drug dealer and manufacturer Michael Klaas brought an application for leave to appeal against an order of the Supreme Court of Appeal.

In 2013, the Alexandra Regional Court sentenced him to 15 years for dealing in drugs and five years for manufacturing drugs, with the sentences ordered to run concurrently.

He appealed his conviction and sentence, twice in the High Court and once in the Supreme Court of Appeal. All three applications were dismissed, so Klaas then turned to the Constitutional Court.

In the Constitutional Court, Klaas argued that his right to privacy had been infringed when police searched his house in 2009 without a search warrant and in his absence, and seized drugs, chemicals and equipment for manufacturing drugs.

He also argued that the State had not proved that the drugs were manufactured in his house. 

In a media statement, the Constitutional Court said that the applicant had been rightly convicted but "did not have a fair trial at the sentencing stage".

In terms of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, a first-time offender must be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years if the drugs are valued at over R50,000 and the accused was acting alone, or if the drugs are worth over R10,000 and the accused was acting as part of a syndicate.  

In the case of Klaas, 2,920 mandrax tablets had been seized, but the State had not proved the value of the drugs.

"For that reason the Constitutional Court held that there had been an irregularity in sentencing and that it was entitled to reconsider the applicant's sentence." 

The court replaced Klaas's original sentence of 15 years for drug dealing to 12 years to run concurrently with his five-year sentence for drug dealing.

African News Agency/ANA