S v Nabolisa

Case No.
Lower Court Judgments Hearing Date Judgment Date Majority Author

KwaZulu-Natal High Court, 4 May 2011
SCA, 1 Oct. 2012
7 Mar. 2013

12 Jun. 2013 Jafta J. 7-3

Mr Frank Nabolisa was convicted, along with his co-accused Mrs Cheryl Cwele, of dealing in dangerous dependence-producing drugs.  He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, and on appeal the SCA upheld his conviction and increased his sentence to 20 years. Mrs Cwele did not appeal.

Mr Nabolisa alleges in his appeal against both his sentence and conviction on the following bases: (1) the High Court and SCA infringed his right to a fair trial by not allowing him to present certain evidence; (2) the High Court and SCA erred in interpreting the Drug Trafficking Act 140 and 1992 to apply to a situation where the drugs in question were not collected nor imported into South Africa (the alleged trafficking happened in Brazil); and (3) the SCA is not empowered to increase a sentence where the State has not appealed the sentence imposed by the High Court.

On the third point, the majority of the Constitutional Court, in a judgment authored by Justice Jafta (in which Chief Justice Mogoeng and Justices Froneman, Khampepe, Mhlanta AJ, Nkabinde and Zondo concurred) found that without a formal notice of appeal by the State against the sentence imposed, the State cannot merely notify the court of its appeal against the sentence in written argument before the appeal court. Without such a formal appeal in accordance with section 316 of the Criminal Procedure Act, the issue was not properly before the SCA, and hence the increase in Mr Nabolisa’s sentence should be set aside. The majority therefore set aside the sentence imposed by the SCA, reinstating the 12 year sentence imposed by the High Court.

Justice Skweyiya wrote a minority judgment (in which Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke and Justice van der Westhuizen concurred) finding that there was a long established practice that the State could motivate an increase in sentence where the accused brings an appeal without the need to bring a formal cross-appeal. The minority found that the sentence issue had been fully argued in the SCA and Mr Nabolisa had adequate notice that the State would seek an increase in his sentence. According to the minority there was no irregularity or unfairness and so they would not have interfered with the SCA’s order to increase Mr Nabolisa’s sentence.

Download the judgment here.

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