Magistrate under fire for 'grossly inadequate' GBV sentence

30 January 2020 | Justice

The prosecutor-general's office has slammed a magistrate's decision to effectively impose zero prison time for attempted murder, after a man confessed to stabbing his wife multiple times in a jealous rage.

“I stabbed my wife. I almost stabbed her to death,” Xavier Dentlinger told Windhoek magistrate Vanessa Stanley last March, referring to a violent dispute with his wife in late January 2018. Dentlinger said he stabbed his wife three times in the back and that the attack took place because “she made me mad.







She committed adultery in the marriage”.





In March 2019, he pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted murder read with the provisions of the Combating of Domestic Violence Act.



Magistrate Stanley imposed a wholly suspended six-month prison sentence on condition that he is not convicted of a similar crime during the next five years.



The sentence meant he was released from prison immediately, after spending a little over a year in jail, as bail was not granted during the trial.







Travesty



This week, acting High Court Judge Kobus Miller granted state advocate and deputy prosecutor-general Antonia Verhoef leave to appeal the sentence.



In papers filed by Verhoef at the High Court, she described Stanley's sentence as “so grossly inadequate in the circumstances that it puts a stamp of triviality on the crime committed”.



The advocate stressed that the punishment imposed is “so lenient that it induces a sense of shock” and “amounts to a complete travesty of justice”.



Verhoef underlined the brutal nature of the crime and the pervasive rate of domestic violence cases in Namibia.



She said an adequate, custodial punishment should reflect the interests of society and warned Stanley's sentence “may lead to society laughing and scoffing at such a sentence and the administration of justice”.



In his judgement this week, Judge Miller said he was granting the state the opportunity to take the matter to the appeal court, as, in his view, “there is a reasonable prospect that the court of appeal may interfere with the sentence imposed”.



Records from the trial show that during sentencing, Stanley said while the crime Dentlinger had committed was serious and took place in a domestic setting where a husband is “expected to protect [his wife] and not hurt her”, Dentlinger had shown genuine remorse.



She added that the year he spent behind bars was factored into her decision to impose the suspended sentence.



Representing himself during the trial, Dentlinger, as per the trial record, asked the court to show mercy and to forgive him. “I was wrong. I was using drugs at this stage.”



He added that the year he spent in custody had been beneficial “because I am nearer to God and I know what I am striving for now”.



He told the court that while he was still legally married, divorce proceedings were under way.



The State had asked for a two-year prison sentence and added that the victim agreed that a prison sentence was warranted.







Unsafe homes



A study published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2018 concluded that globally the domestic home “remains the most dangerous place” for women.



The study found that of 87 000 women killed in 2017, 58% died at the hands of intimate partners or family members.



The study highlighted that Africa and the Americas are the regions where women are most at risk of being killed in their homes.



The study concluded there is an urgent need for “effective crime prevention and criminal justice responses to violence against women that promote victim safety and empowerment while ensuring offender accountability”.



Moreover, the study urged the police and justice system as well as health and social services to strengthen coordination and to involve men in the solutions.



A 2013 Namibian Demographic and Health Survey revealed that a third of married women have been beaten, forced to have sex or been psychologically abused by their husbands or partners.



The survey found that 15% of Namibian women who have experienced violence have never sought help or told anyone about their experiences.



It also found that 28% of women and 22% of men aged 15 to 49 justified beating as an acceptable way for a husband to discipline his wife.

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