Firearm fatalities examined at Salt River Medico-Legal Laboratory in 2009 and their investigative outcome by 2014

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

South Africa has a very long history of gun violence, particularly politically motivated. The politically motivated gun violence did subside after 1994, however there was an increase in criminal gun violence. In 2004 Dr Liebenberg from the University of Cape Town conducted a study on the victimology and investigative outcomes of firearm deaths of 1999 in the Salt River Medico - Legal Laboratory drainage area. There were some compelling results, including a remarkably low conviction rate of 7.21%. In 2000 new legislation was enacted, which is the Firearms Control Act (1) of 2000 and from 2001 to 2005 there was a 13.6% decrease in firearm homicides which was consistent after the introduction of the new act, likely due to the decrease in the number of firearms in circulation. Because of the changes in firearm legislation and reported crime rates, it was decided to conduct a follow - up study one decade later, looking at the investigative outcomes of firearm deaths to see whether the decreased contribution of firearms in homicides and crime made an impact on the investigative and judicial process of the Salt River Medico - Legal Laboratory cases. In 2009 there were 281 firearm deaths investigated at Salt River Medico - Legal Laboratory as opposed to 532 in 1999. In 1999, 89.29% of firearm deaths were due to homicide as opposed to 86.12% in 2009. In 1999 the majority of firearm homicide victims were Black and Coloured males between the ages of 21 and 30 years, this is similar to what is seen in 2009, however there were fewer Coloured victims in 2009. In both years homicides occurred more often on weekends, at night time. In 1999 there were peaks in May and then from October through to December. In 2009 however, the peaks were in March, May and August. One might thin k that with such a large decrease in the number of firearm deaths (not considering other crime trends), the criminal justice system might have fewer cases to investigate and prosecute and that the investigative outcomes (particularly conviction rate) of th ese cases might improve. Even though there was a significant drop in the number of firearm deaths in 2009, there has been no improvement in the conviction rate, with 2009 having a rate of 5.69%. The number of cases still being investigated was also similar at 104 cases (37.01%) for 2009 versus 182 cases (34.54%) for 1999. In 2009 only 58 (20.64%) cases completed the judicial process by 2014, which includes the 16 cases (5.69%) that ended in a guilty verdict, 18 (6.41%) cases where a suspect was acquitted (not guilty) and also 24 (8.54%) cases that were withdrawn in court. Of the 281 cases for 2009, 10 (3.56%) were still in court, which was significantly less than the 59 (11.20%) cases in 1999. From 2009 there were 87 cases that reached an impasse (30.96%) by 2014, as opposed to the 114 (21.63%) cases from 1999 by 2004, which is a statistically significant difference.