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Police to appeal controversial Moroka judgement on breathalyser

Publishing Date : 18 November, 2019

Author : UTLWANANG GASENNELWE

The Government, through Attorney General is preparing to launch an appeal against the controversial High Court judgement that in terms of the law — essentially validates drunken driving, Weekend Post has established.


The contentious judgement was delivered by Judge Lot Moroka, in the matter in which one Freeman Mapukule, was appealing a Magistrate ruling which had been made in favour of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP). According to Moroka, using the breathalyser name coded Intoximeter EC/IR, the police were using an unlawful breathalyser “not prescribed by the Minister” in accordance with the law, in particular Road Traffic Act (Cap 69:01). As a result thereof, Justice Moroka ruled this week: “the act of testing the appellant was as such a nullity. The result can therefore not stand.”


He further ruled that there is no evidence and the failure to provide the specimen of breath was without reasonable excuse, and consequently that the second count cannot stand. “In the final analysis, for the reason of the unlawful breathalyser and the latter grounds the appeal ought to succeed. The appeal against conviction succeeds in both counts and the following orders are hereby made: the conviction and sentence are hereby quashed and set aside in respect to both counts and the appellant is discharged and acquitted,” Moroka said in the judgement.


The offence of failure/ refusal to provide a specimen of breath is created by section 47 (5), of the Road Traffic Act. The section provides that: “a police officer may require any person who is driving or is in charge of a motor vehicle, to provide at any place which that officer may specify, a specimen of breath for analysis by means of a breathalyser of the type prescribed by the Minister.”  Has the Intoximeter CT/RS been prescribed by the Minister as permissible for use in Botswana for purposes of the Road Traffic Act?


In 2013, the Minister prescribed a new generation of breathalysers’ permissible for use in Botswana. This is Statutory Instrument No 95 of 2013. Section 2 of the Statutory Instrument provides that: “for the purpose of Section 47 of the Road Traffic Act, the breathalyser which shall be used for the analysis of specimens of breath, shall be any of the types of devices specified in the Schedule hereto: Alcometer, Intoxilyser, Drager Alcotest, Alco Sensor, Intoximeter, Lifeloc, RBT IV, Alcotech alert and Intox.”


Sergeant Phepheng had told the court that the type of instruments used to test the appellant’s alcohol level was the said unlawful Intoximeter EC/IR. Moroka appointed out in the judgement that; “this type of breathalyser does not form part of the list of breathalysers No. 18 prescribed for use by the Minister in terms of Statutory Instrument.”  Refusal or failure to provide a specimen of breath or blood is not unlawful per se. It is the failure and or refusal, without reasonable excuse that constitutes an offence.


A reasonable excuse would in the circumstances of Section 47 include; certifiable health reasons; injuries arising from an accident etc. Each case will turn on its own circumstances. The appellant attributes his inability to provide sufficient breath to health reasons. He did not refuse to provide a specimen of blood for alcohol testing.  This judgment seeks to clarify two critical issues around the use of breathalysers as used within the context of the Road Traffic Act (Cap 69:01) of the Laws of Botswana.


The first issue concerns the types of breathalysers’ permissible under the Road Traffic Act in Botswana. The second issue is concerned with the law on the offence of Refusal/Failure to Provide a Specimen of Breath Contrary to Section 47 (5) of the Road Traffic Act. What this judgement means for Botswana. A private attorney who preferred anonymity told Weekend Post that the judgement has brought controversy, and a problem has risen.


In terms of the law, he said the current High Court ruling on the matter for now takes precedence and as such motorists cannot take the breathalyser as the machines were not lawfully sanctioned. “Currently there is no control, as we enter the festive season, for drunken and driving and this therefore will create a problem. Motorists can now drive under the influence of alcohol, and no case can be registered at court on the same. It means anyone can drink and drive at this point without being charged for the presumed offence,” he stated.


It’s favourable for motorists imbibing on alcohol, but the country needs control systems to curb driving under the influence of alcohol. They should consider approaching Minister or appealing. They should get the machines approved or prescribed by the Minister. If the machine is not prescribed, their case has no merit since the machine has not been sanctioned. Contacted for comment, Botswana Police Service (BPS), Traffic boss Mosimanegape Katlholo could not be drawn into the matter.


“I cannot comment on the matter for now as we need to meet as Police to take an organisation position on the matter, otherwise I will be talking my personal views or opinion which I want to guard against,” he said. The alcohol testing came after the appellant was arrested by the Selibe Phikwe police following an accident in which the motor vehicle he was driving collided with an electric pole and fence, this after he lost control of the motor vehicle.


The police who attended to the accident formed the opinion that he was driving whilst under the influence of alcohol and asked him to accompany them to the police station for testing his breath for alcohol level. The accused agreed and upon arrival at the police station, the appellant was duly warned that he was required to provide a specimen of breath into an alcometer referred to by the Police officers who gave evidence at trial as Intoximeter EC/IR serial number 012623 (which is presently unlawful).


The accused blew breath into the Intoximeter but could not generate sufficient specimen for testing and reasons for the failure were not specified in the record of proceedings from the lower court. Police then warned and cautioned him of the offences of failure to provide a specimen of breath and that of driving without due care and attention. Consequently, he was tried and convicted of the two offences. He was duly sentenced to pay a fine of P 3 200.00 on count 1. He is appealing against the conviction on the count at the High Court.

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