The sentence of a young mother who was sent to prison for seven years after defrauding a bank using another woman’s identity has been set aside because her child’s interests had not been taken into account.
Two judges of the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria set aside the seven-year sentence a Benoni magistrate imposed on the 24-year-old mother in 2014 and referred her case back to the magistrate for a new sentence.
She was sent to prison for defrauding Standard Bank to obtain finance of R579 000 to buy a car, using another woman’s identity.
When she received the car she immediately handed it over to her handler, who had arranged all the fraudulent documents.
When the bank discovered the fraud, it had to write off the value of the transaction a year later, causing a total loss of R670 000. The woman was a first offender and the mother of a nine-month-old baby daughter at the time.
She appealed against her sentence on the basis that the magistrate had not taken the rights and interests of her child and the effect the sentence would have on the child into account.
A social worker said in a report the woman was the primary caregiver of her child, who was totally dependent on her.
She said the child would have to be removed from the mother and her fiance and placed in alternative care if the mother was sent to jail.
She concluded that the mother was not “prison material” and that correctional supervision would be a suitable sentencing option.
The Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that when a custodial sentence of a primary caregiver was in issue, the trial court had to establish if there would be an impact on the child, had to consider and attach appropriate weight to the child’s best interests and had to ensure that the child would be taken care of.
The Constitutional Court also recognised that children’s best interests had to be taken into account when passing sentence, especially where the child’s primary caregiver was a single parent.
The high court judges found that the magistrate had committed a serious irregularity by not considering the child’s interests in this case.