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Section 276 of the Criminal Procedure Act largely codifies the sentencing options available to the courts. A court may generally impose any one or a combination of the following sentences, and wholly or partially suspend the sentence for a certain period, on condition that the offender do not re-offend within the time of suspension.

  • Imprisonment

This is the most well known form of punishment. A district court can generally impose a sentence of up to 3 years imprisonment, except where a statute provides for a higher jurisdiction. The Drugs and Drug Trafficking Act , for example, empowers a district court to impose up to 25 years. A regional and a high court can sentence an accused to life imprisonment.

Generally, a court may impose any term of imprisonment up to the maximum prescribed by law. In terms of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 105 of 1997, courts are compelled to impose minimum sentences for certain specific crimes, unless it is found that there exist substantial and compelling circumstances which justify the imposition of a lesser sentence.


Life sentence

premeditated murder;

murder of a law enforcement officer;

rape, while inflicting serious injuries;

51 of 1977

92(1)(a) of the Magistrates' Court Act 32 of 1944

Act 140 of 1992 Section 13(f) read with section 17(e)

Sec 51 Criminal Law Amendment Act 105 of 1997

Sec 51(3)(a)

rape of a person younger than 16;

rape by a person knowing he has HIV/AIDS;

rape by a group of persons;

At least 15 years

  • murder, when not premeditated;
  • robbery with the use of a weapon;
  • hijacking of a motor vehicle;
  • the possession of an automatic or semi-automatic firearm;
  • theft, fraud or forgery involving amounts of more than R500 000,00.
  • At least 5 years
  • an offence involving an assault, when a dangerous wound is inflicted with a firearm;
  • housebreaking while in possession of a firearm.

A prisoner may, before his term expires, be released on parole by the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board. A prisoner may only be considered for parole after serving half his sentence, but only after 25 years in the case of a life sentence.

  • Fines

The Criminal Procedure Act authorises a court, in terms of subsection 276 (1)(f), to impose a fine upon a convicted person.


Lower Courts are restricted in the amount they can impose for common law offences.

The limits are as follows:

District Courts:

Maximum R60 000

Sec 6(a) Correctional Services Act

Sec 6(b)(iv) Correctional Services Act

Regional Courts:

Maximum R300 000.

Most statutes indicate the maximum punishment allowed in respect of a contravention of a statutory provision and often also contain a provision extending a lower courts’ jurisdiction if the fine allowed by the statute is higher than the jurisdictional limit of the court.

The High Court has unlimited jurisdiction with regards to fines.

  • Correctional Supervision

Correctional supervision is a form of punishment which an offender serves in the community, and during which the offender is not incarcerated in a prison at any time. The sentence is subject to conditions such as the court may prescribe, which will invariably include house arrest and community service, as well as submission to various programmes aimed at the offender’s training, rehabilitation and improvement.

The objective of this form of sentence is “to enable persons subject to community corrections to lead a socially responsible and crime-free life during the period of their sentence and in future.”

  • Periodical Imprisonment

A court can sentence such person to undergo periodical imprisonment for a period of not less than one hundred hours and not more than two thousand hours. This type of sentence would normally require an offender to report to a prison every Friday evening, after which he would be released the following Monday morning.

Besides the normal sentencing options, legislation empowers courts to make specific orders in certain circumstances:

Sec 92(1)(b) of the Magistrate Courts Act 32 of 1944

Terblanche, The Guide to Sentencing in South Africa, 1999

Sec 50 Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998

Sec 285 Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977

  • Driving licences – If convicted of an offence contained in the National Road Traffic Act (such as “drunken driving”), the court may suspend the offender’s driving licence for certain periods. Firearm Licences – If convicted of any violent or dishonest crime, a court may declare an offender’s unfit to possess a firearm.

Forfeiture Order – If a court finds that an offender has financially benefitted from crime, or that a certain property was used to facilitate crime, it can make an order declaring certain of the offender’s property forfeit to the state.

  • Habitual Criminal – If a court is of the opinion that an convicted person habitually commits offences and that the community should be protected against him, declare him an habitual criminal. It effect would be, that in the event of a subsequent conviction, he must be sentenced to at least 15 years imprisonment, and may only become eligible for parole after serving 7 years of the sentence.
  • Sec 103 Firearm Control Act 60 of 2000
  • Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998
  • Sec 286(1) Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977
  • Sec 65(4) (b) (iv) of the Correctional Services Act 8 of 1959

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