The admissibility of unconstitutionally obtained evidence : issues concerning impeachment

Niesing, Gysbert (2005-05)

Thesis (LLM)--University of Stellenbosch, 2005.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The law regarding the admissibility of unconstitutionally obtained evidence for impeaching the accused's testimony is still undeveloped. This work discusses three of the options available to South African courts and the difficulties inherent in each. The first is to follow the approach of the Supreme Court of the United States. The American approach regarding the exclusion of evidence from the case in chief is strict. Courts are not bestowed with a discretion to admit unconstitutionally obtained evidence: Unless one of the accepted exceptions exist, a court must exclude unconstitutionally obtained evidence in order to deter unconstitutional behaviour by the authorities. Deterrence of unconstitutional police behaviour is however no longer considered controlling when cross-examining the accused. Unconstitutionally obtained evidence - both real and testimonial communications - is therefore admissible for impeachment purposes despite being excluded from the case in chief. The rationale is to prevent the accused giving perjurious testimony in the face of the prosecution's inability to impeach the accused's veracity in the usual manner. The application of the American approach in South Africa has however already been rejected in S v Makhathini.1 The second possibility is for South African courts to follow the position of the Supreme Court of Canada in R v Calder.2 The admissibility of impeachment evidence in Canada - as with evidence in chief - is based on the effect of its admission of the repute of the administration of justice. However, evidence excluded from the case in chief will only in very rare circumstances be admitted in cross-examination of the accused. Finally, the option suggested by this thesis, is to continue the trend started by s 35(5) of the South African Constitution, which has already been applied with great success in cases where the admissibility of unconstitutionally obtained evidence in the case in chief is in issue. Section 35(5), like the Canadian s 24(2) it bears some resemblance to, gives courts a discretion to exclude unconstitutionally obtained evidence on the basis of unfairness to the accused or the effect admission will have on the administration of justice. It is submitted in this thesis that, because of the interlocutory nature of a ruling on admissibility, this approach adapts easily to the admission of limited purpose evidence such as impeachment evidence: If the admission of the unconstitutionally obtained evidence, regardless of whether it was previously excluded from the case in chief, renders the trial unfair or would otherwise be detrimental to the administration of justice it must be excluded.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die reg in verband met die toelaatbaarheid van ongrondwetlik verkree getuienis vir 'n geloofwaardigheidsaanval op die beskuldigde is nog in 'n vroee stadium van ontwikkeling. Hierdie tesis bespreek drie moontlikhede beskikbaar aan Suid-Afrikaanse howe en die probleme inherent aan elkeen. Die eerste is om die posisie van die Amerikaanse Hooggeregshof te volg. Die Amerikaanse posisie betreffende die toelaatbaarheid van getuienis tydens die staat se saak is streng. Howe het geen diskresie om ongrondwetlik verkree getuienis toe te laat nie: Behalwe in gevalle waar aanvaarde uitsonderings bestaan, moet 'n hof dus ongrondwetlik verkree getuienis uitsluit om ongrondwetlike optrede deur die owerhede te voorkom. Voorkoming van ongrondwetlike optrede aan die kant van die polisie is egter nie meer die beherende oorweging wanneer die beskuldigde in kruis-ondervraging geneem word nie. Ongrondwetlik verkree getuienins - beide reel en verklarend van aard - is gevolglik toelaatbaar vir doeleindes van 'n geloofwaardigheidsaanval, ten spyte daarvan dat dit moontlik ontoelaatbaar was tydens die staat se saak. Die rede is om te voorkom dat die beskuldigde meinedige getuienis lewer terwyl die staat verhoed word om the bekuldigde se geloofwaardigheid op die gewone manier te toets. Hierdie posisie is egter al verwerp in S v Makhathini. 3 Die tweede moontlikheid is om die posisie soos uitgele deur die Hooggeregshof van Kanada, in R v Calder 4 te volg. In Kanada word die toelaatbaarheid van getuienis rakende geloofwaardigheid - sowel as getuienis rakende skuld - bepaal deur die invloed wat die toelating daarvan op die reputasie van die regspleging het. Getuienis wat ontoelaatbaar is tydens die staat se saak sal egter slegs in baie beperkte omstandighed toegalaat word tydens kruisondervraging van die beskuldigde. Laastens, die opsie wat voorgestel word deur hierdie tesis, is om voort te gaan met die patroon wat ontwikkel is deur art. 35(5) van die Grondwet van Suid-Afrika, wat alreeds met groot sukses toegepas is in sake waar die toelaatbaarheid van ongrondwetlik verkree getuienis in die staat se saak ter sprake was. Artikel 35(5), soos Kanada se art 24(2) waarmee dit tot 'n mate ooreenstem, gee howe 'n diskresie om ongrondwetlik verkree getuienis uit te sluit op grond van onregverdigheid teenoor die beskuldigde of indien die toelating daarvan 'n negatiewe invloed op die regspleging sal he. Omdat 'n beslissing oor die toelaatbaarheid van getuienis tussenstyds van aard is, pas dit goed aan by die verdere ondersoek na die toelaatbaarheid van getuienis wat slegs VIr 'n beperkte doel aangebied word: Indien die toelating van ongrondwetlik verkree getuienis, ongeag of dit voorheen uitgesluit was uit die staat se saak, die verhoor onregverdig maak of die regspleging negatiefbeinvloed, moet sulke getuienis uitgesluit word.

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