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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

"We came to do business this morning."

by Shane Michael (JD '11)

The crime of defilement in Uganda is the American equivalent of statutory rape. Coming before Justice Lugayizi Friday was an appeal of a magistrate court's judgment in a defilement case.

A nine-year old girl alleged that her teacher had "raped" her. The girl, however, did not know what rape was, and a medical examiner found that rape had not occurred. The magistrate determined that some molestation less than rape had occurred, and declared the defendant guilty of indecent assault, based primarily on the girl's testimony.

Justice Lugayizi must determine in the hearing if he will hear the appeal. This decision turns on whether or not the uncorroborated testimony of a girl "of tender years," as Ugandan law phrases it, is sufficient to substantiate a conviction on the lesser charge of indecent assault.

Prior to the hearing, Justice Lugayizi's court reporter indicated that while attorneys for both sides were ready, the defendant was not at the court.  For this reason, the defendant's attorney sought an adjournment of the hearing until the defendant could be present.

This is a common theme in Ugandan cases we've seen in our first week. An attorney was late for the first case we saw; in two others, an attorney failed to show up altogether; in another case, a witness was not present. When key figures are absent, the judge will typically stay the trial or hearing until a later time, and in criminal cases, there are no sanctions for truancy or absence. This increases the burden on the courts and stagnates proceedings.

This morning when the defendant did not show up because he was "sick," the state's lawyer did not object to the defendant's prayer for a postponement of the hearing.

When Justice L asked the lawyers for both sides if the defendant's presence was necessary for the purpose of the hearing, both said no. This didn't please Justice Lugayizi. "We came to do business this morning," he said. "That is exactly what we shall do."