Jail sentence for intoxicated driver

A repeat drinking and driving offender was sent straight to jail for committing a fifth similar offence.

10 February 2019 | Crime

Walvis Bay • Otis Finck

Elizabeth Cronje (47) was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months imprisonment for driving under the influence of alcohol here earlier this week.

Magistrate Vicky Nicolaidis also fined Cronje, who appeared in the magistrate’s court in Walvis Bay, N$1 000 or 30 days imprisonment for failing to produce her driver’s licence. In addition, Cronje was also disqualified from applying for a learner’s or driver’s licence for five years.

The accused, a divorced mother of two, conducted her own defence and pleaded guilty.

She told magistrate Nicolaidis that she enjoyed some red wine, and admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol. She added that she was alone and on her way to home when she crashed the vehicle she was driving into a stationary vehicle on 2 February.

“I drove away from the accident scene and was arrested at my home. I know I was wrong and that it would not have happened if I had not consumed alcohol.”

Cronje, who is self-employed, has four previous drinking and driving convictions.

Alarmingly prevalent

Public prosecutor Tresia Hafeni told the court that the offences faced by the accused are of a serious nature and alarmingly prevalent.

“The court must impose a deterrent sentence. Statistics have shown that drunken driving is the leading cause of road accidents in Namibia. It is also aggravating that the accused has previous convictions for the same offence and still chose to drive while being under the influence of liquor.”

Hafeni emphasised that the accused was not deterred by the thousands of dollars in fines she had to pay, and said she was a danger to herself and other road users.

“She drove without a licence, since it was suspended. This shows she has no respect for the law. There was an accident and luckily no one sustained injuries. Fines imposed in the past have proven ineffective and the court should sentence the accused in such a way to show the community that drinking and driving is a serious offence. It should also be a wake-up call for her to turn her life around. The fact that she pleaded guilty and appears remorseful should not detract from the seriousness of the offence.”

Court records indicate that Cronje was found guilty and fined N$20 000 or 12 months imprisonment in February 2017. Her driver’s licence was also suspended for 12 months. Two years earlier, she was fined N$10 000 or 12 months imprisonment and her licence was also suspended for five years. In September 2012, she was fined N$8 000 or an 18 months imprisonment sentence along with her licence being suspended for five months. In March of that same year, Cronje was found guilty and fined N$6 000 or 12 months imprisonment.

Firm stance

In her sentencing reason, magistrate Nicolaidis said it is imperative that courts take a firm stance in sentencing accused persons in road traffic offences in order to show the public there is zero tolerance for drivers who disobey the law.

“The accused has four previous convictions for the same offence and had been imposed with fines totalling N$44 000 in the span of five years. Her last conviction was in October 2017, and less than 18 months later she is back in the dock for perpetrating the same offence. The maximum penalty permitted by law was imposed with her last conviction.”

Nicolaidis added that the court is inundated with drunken driving cases on a weekly basis, despite sentences meted out and extensive awareness campaigns carried out countrywide.

“This offence has become so endemic that it appears as if traffic officers are fighting a losing battle against those who disobey the rules of the road.”

She labelled Namibian roads ‘highways of death’ and said this places all road users in ever present peril.

“The court has a duty to protect road users from those who chose to ignore the rules of the road. The only way to attain this is by imposing higher sentences. This is crucial due to the staggering statistics of road deaths experienced every year. Sentencing should thus be in such a way that potential offenders are instantly deterred.”

Walvis Bay traffic chief Eben Platt welcomed the sentence handed down by Nicolaidis as a step in the right direction.

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