Thousands of South Africans have been slapped with criminal records after paying a fine for breaking lockdown rules.
This is based on figures published by Police Minister Bheki Cele, who said that 276,607 people have been arrested for contravening lockdown regulations, with 22,815 of these people paying admission of guilt fines.
The option to pay an admission of guilt fine may be offered to those arrested by the SAPS on suspicion of a less serious crime, allowing the person to admit guilt without having to appear in court.
While paying a fine may seem like a good idea if you are unfairly arrested for breaking lockdown rules, it will result in you being given a criminal record.
Being given a criminal record will result in the following:
- Your employment prospects will be greatly reduced.
- You will be unable to travel to certain countries.
- You will be disqualified from obtaining a professional driving permit and other certifications.
- The criminal record will last for 10 years.
If an admission of guilt fine is not paid, the accused must be found guilty by a court after a fair trial.
Justice Project South Africa chair Howard Dembovsky told MyBroadband that South Africans should not pay an admission of guilt fine if they are unfairly arrested for contravening lockdown regulations.
He said that this advice has also been given by Deputy Minister of Justice John Jeffrey.
“John Jeffrey, the Deputy Minister of Justice has warned that people should not pay admission of guilt fines unless they concede that they are guilty,” Dembovsky said. “I wholly concur with him.”
“Paying an admission of guilt fine to avoid appearing in court is foolish.”
South Africans made into “artificial criminals”
Referencing the figures announced by Minister Cele, Dembovsky said it is both encouraging and discouraging that 8% of those arrested for breaking lockdown rules have paid admission of guilt fines.
“On the one hand, it means that people are not simply admitting guilt,” he said. “On the other, it means that 22,815 people have become artificial criminals.”
“I wonder if the pensioner arrested for going to get his insulin or the people arrested for walking on the beach are among those who are now artificial criminals.”
“Regrettably, I suspect that many who were not guilty of the offence they were charged with took the quick and less costly way out, and relinquished their constitutional right to a fair trial,” he said
Dembovsky argued that the expense of mounting a defence against the charges for breaking lockdown regulations cannot be compared to the problems facing South Africans who have a criminal record.
A criminal record will endure for at least 10 years, Demvosky said, during which time that person will not be considered for employment opportunities and will not be granted travel visas to many countries.
“It does not matter if the admission of guilt fine paid was R500 or R5,000,” he said.
“No employer or embassy cares what a person was convicted of. They only care that they have a criminal record.”
The Criminal Procedure Act prescribes the imposition of a criminal record whether the offence is a misdemeanour or a serious criminal offence, Dembovsky added.
“So long as a person’s fingerprints are taken, and a docket is registered by SAPS, a conviction or the payment of an admission of guilt fine will result in the recordal of a criminal record.”
The Department of Justice and Correctional Services said in May that it is working on new legislation which will stop an admission of guilt fine from including a criminal record.
“This is something we have been wanting to address and it is something that will be (included) in an upcoming Judicial Matters Bill,” Deputy Minister John Jefferies said.