Bust by a hidden bullet


WHEN it is in the interests of justice and to an extent the protection of victims, an accused can be complelled to give incriminating evidence against himself. A case in point: The Minister of Safety and Security applied to court seeking permission to have a bullet surgically removed from the leg of a person accused of being involved in a robbery for the purposes of ballistic tests. They contended that the accused was shot and injured in the course of a botched robbery in which both the victims were killed. The accused resisted the application and the removal of the bullet on several grounds. An eye-witness had told the police that one of the robbers had been shot and injured. About two days after the robbery the police learnt from an informer that the respondent had been involved in the aforementioned incident and had bullet wounds in his thighs. The next morning the man was detained, with both his thighs in bandages. he indicated to the police that he had been involved in a scuffle at a tavern the previous day when someone interfered with his girlfriend and that he had been injured with a screwdriver. He also mentioned that he had received medical treatment at a particular hospital. The police took him to the hospital but there was no record of him being treated there. The owner of the tavern also denied that the incident described by the accused had taken place. Furthermore, the alleged girlfriend, in the accused’s presence, denied he was her boyfriend and had no knowledge of any injuries sustained by him with a screwdriver. The respondent was thereupon arrested on the two murder charges. The next day, the accused was taken to a District Surgeon. He reiterated his earlier explanation for his injuries and told the doctor he had been stabbed with a screwdriver. The doctor noted that his injuries looked like slightly septic bullet wounds which had not been professionally treated. X-rays were taken and they showed a clearly visible bullet in his upper left leg. The eye-witness to the robbery could unfortunately not positively identify the man and therefore the only available evidence to link him to the murders was a forensic test of the bullet. An orthopaedic surgeon told the court that the removal of the bullet would be a relatively simple and safe procedure under general anaesthetic. The police obtained a search warrant to secure the bullet but the accused refused to give permission for it to be removed from his leg. The accused contended that the medical procedure could endanger his life and result in pain, suffering and inconvenience. Furthermore, he contended that if the application was granted his rights would be violated. The court ordered that the police were entitled to use reasonable force, including any necessary surgical procedure, performed by qualified medical doctors, to remove the bullet and use it as evidence in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Act. The accused was ordered to subject himself to the necessary surgical procedure. The bullet was duly removed and used in evidence in the trial.

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