Ultimate Christmas present for sweet-toothed chocolate thief
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Pretoria - Although the courts are there to maintain law and order, their function is also to be fair, as a thief with a sweet tooth found out on Christmas Eve.
In July last year, Bhuti Majola was convicted of theft after he admitted to stealing six chocolates worth R72.45 from the Witbank Spar Supermarket. He admitted to stealing the sweet treats and an eMalahleni magistrate subsequently sent him to jail for two years.
The matter came to the attention of a high court judge sitting in the Middelburg division as a matter of routine, as the court reviewed judgments from the lower court.
Judge TV Ratshibvumo, in his subsequent judgment, said upon perusal of the trial record, it was conspicuously incomplete in that it was only the sentencing part without the plea and judgment. The judge immediately asked the magistrate for the complete record of the sentencing procedures.
Realising that the sentence might be too harsh, the judge asked the office of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) to comment within 24 hours on the sentence imposed.
As the matter came before the judge last month, he wanted to urgently decide on the matter so that Majola could possibly spend Christmas with his family.
The judge said both he and the DPP agreed that any further delay in dealing with this matter would result in undue injustice, as the sentence imposed has to be set aside immediately.
Ratshibvumo remarked that the two-year jail sentence induced shock and was not in accordance with justice.
“The sentence is clearly disproportionate to the legitimate needs of the society, the offender and the crime committed,” he said.
It came to light that Majola had six previous convictions of theft, but some were committed more than 10 years ago. On those convictions, he received fines as punishment.
The magistrate, in sentencing Majola, at the time told him: “The punishment that the court is going to impose is the punishment that has not been used on your other punishments … It is a punishment that will rehabilitate you.”
But the judge said the magistrate could not now punish him for his previous convictions as he had already paid for his wrongs.
The judge concluded on Christmas Eve that a 12-month suspended prison sentence was fair.
Majola, who was at the time of the high court hearing unaware that his fate was going to change and that he would be home for Christmas, had already spent nearly six months of his sentence in jail.