Magistrate Court in Botswana

The following post is by 3L Bradley DeFreitas

On Wednesday January 7th, Professor Behan, Brian and I were given the opportunity to attend a magistrate court in Gaborone.  When we first arrived we were led to the Chief Magistrate’s office.  While in there we were able to ask questions about the process that a case went through while in the magistrate court.  After arrival we were told that there was a felony arraignment that we could attend and then there was also a verdict that the Chief Magistrate would read.  The Chief Magistrate offered to delay her verdict so that we could sit in on both the arraignment and the verdict.

For the arraignment, we sat in the gallery with the police officers who were the escorts for the two accused.  The two prisoners were accused of breaking and entering along with grand larceny. In addition they were both illegal immigrants.  Since neither of them spoke English, the court provided a translator which made the process longer than usual.  Each prisoner was read his rights and then the charges and at the end the magistrate asked if they understood.  Both answered that they did but it seemed that neither in fact understood what was going on.  In Botswana there is no public defender so if a person cannot afford a lawyer then he must represent himself which puts the poor at an immediate disadvantage.  These two were unable to afford attorneys so they would each be mounting their own defense.  I was slightly disturbed that there was no option for an indigent defendant and it made me appreciate that the U.S. system has at least some help for the defendants unable to afford an attorney.  Both of the defendants were remanded pending the trial since they were illegal immigrants.  After this we were led to the court room where the verdict would be read.

The court room was packed because this case was a very high profile case.  The defendant faced charges of rape and robbery.  The Chief Magistrate read her decision to the court and it was about 15 pages.  She went through all of the issues in the case and in the end she found him guilty of robbery and indecent assault, which was a lesser included offense in the rape charge.  Next, the defense attorney got up and addressed the court and what he said was a shock to all three of us.  The defense attorney essentially threw his client under the bus and told the magistrate that we all knew this day was coming and that the court should just go ahead and hand down the sentence that day.  The prosecutor seemed a little shocked but he did try and mitigate for the defendant by pointing out that he was a first time offender.  The magistrate decided to sentence him at the end of the week.  I later found out from the magistrate’s intern that the defendant was facing a minimum of 10 years for the robbery conviction.

Bradley DeFreitas, Professor Behan, and Brian Kron at the magistrate's bench in the Village Magistrate Court, Gaborone, Botswana.
Bradley DeFreitas, Professor Behan, and Brian Kron at the magistrate’s bench in the Village Magistrate Court, Gaborone, Botswana.

The experience at the magistrate court was one of my favorites for the entire trip.  I thought that it was fascinating to see how the beginning of a case is and how the end of one is as well.  Everyone at the court house was very accommodating and the Chief Magistrate answered any questions that we had about the case or the judicial process.

Bradley DeFreitas


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