‘Drunk’ driver who killed three has sentence slashed
Durban man has his term cut from 20 years to six because the state 'had failed to discharge the onus of proof'
A Durban man’s 20-year-sentence for drunk driving and culpable homicide was hailed as a stern warning against intoxicated drivers when it was handed down in 2017, but now he has succeeded in lowering the sentence to just six years.
Kriesen Moodley was 21 when he caused the accident that claimed three lives. The three men, Delon Gurriah, Kovashen Pillay and Denalin Naicker, had been travelling with two other friends along Link Road in Chatsworth on 28 March 2015. But Moodley, who had taken his friend’s BMW 335i convertible without permission – allegedly while drunk – crashed into the group’s Yaris at high speed, leading to Naicker, Pillay and Gurriah’s deaths.
The Durban Regional Court had little sympathy for Moodley, who had claimed innocence, with magistrate Anand Maharaj saying in his 2017 ruling: “This type of offence is dangerously frequent ... the time has now arrived for courts to consider the imposition of exemplary and austere sentences to those who show wilful and wanton disregard for the rules of the road. We need sentences that can have the effect of changing the mind-set of such drivers who become lethal weapons."
The magistrate sentenced Moodley to five years each for three counts of culpable homicide, three years for drunken driving and two years for reckless and negligent driving, ultimately arriving at a 20-year effective sentence.
Moodley immediately approached the High Court in Pietermaritzburg for reprieve. In his appeal application, he said he had been at a family gathering at his parents’ home, and had actually been observing his Saturday fast and was sober. He said the reason he had not asked for permission to borrow the BMW was that he had such a close friendship with the owner that neither would ask to borrow the other’s car. In his high court ruling at the beginning of May, Judge Judge Anton van Zyl wrote of how the drunk driving charge had remained in dispute throughout the trial.
“The evidence relating to this charge comprised the two police witnesses, constables Phiri and Mbozana, who were on patrol and happened to come upon the scene of the collision shortly after it occurred,” wrote Judge van Zyl.
The two officers suspected that Moodley had been drunk, and he was dispatched by ambulance to the hospital where a blood sample was taken. However, the sample later went missing, with none of the police witnesses able to account for how this happened.
“In the present matter is it impossible to infer upon the available evidence and even if it were accepted that the appellant (Moodley) was found with alcohol on his breath after the collision, that his driving ability had been impaired by the consumption of alcohol prior to the collision. In my view the state had failed to discharge the onus of proof which rested upon it and the appellant’s appeal against his conviction,” ruled Van Zyl.
However, the judge did acknowledge that it was highly probable the BMW had been travelling at an excessive speed, and had drifted over into the oncoming traffic lane.“To believe, as the appellant (Moodley) claimed in evidence, that he was travelling at between 60 and 70m/h is, in all the circumstances, far fetched,” he said.On this reasoning, Van Zyl ruled that because the same set of actions caused the three deaths, each sentence should run concurrently, meaning he would only serve an effective six years imprisonment.This means, according to the Correctional Services Act of 1998, Moodley will be able to apply for parole after serving half, or three years, of his sentence.