Covid-19 regulation admission of guilt fines leave 1000s with criminal records
Have you received a fine for breaking a lockdown regulation?
As of 19 June, close to 23 000 South Africans have paid admission of guilt fines for breaking lockdown regulations.
Paying an admission of guilt fine is not necessarily in your best interest.
It might seem like an easy way out, but until government amends legislation you will be a convicted criminal from then on.
Refilwe Moloto speaks to Howard Dembovsky of the Justice Project SA, about the law and your rights.
The Disaster Management Act has been used to manage this particular situation that we find ourselves in and I doubt very much whether this will be the last extension.Howard Dembovsky - Justice Project SA
Government has made it clear that this virus will be here for a long time yet. and in terms of the Act, the minister is allowed
In terms of the Act, the minister is allowed to prescribe penalties and offences in terms of the Disaster Management Regulations, and the minister has chosen to criminalise every single violation of the regulations.Howard Dembovsky - Justice Project SA
Dembovsky says a particular judge did query why government has been made these criminal, rather than administrative, offences which do not carry criminal records with them.
He says as of 9 June, 276 607 people had been arrested for these offences.
There is an important difference between those arrested by police and those not arrested.
The police can issue a J534 form which is written notice to appear in court, which contains an admission of guilt fine which you can pay in order to avoid appearing in court.Howard Dembovsky - Justice Project SA
He explains however that when one is arrested one is then considered to have been convicted by that court if you pay an admission of guilt fine.
The South African Police Services takes your fingerprints when they arrest you and that enables them to register a criminal record against your particulars.Howard Dembovsky - Justice Project SA
This has been raised as a concern for a number of years as one could end up with a criminal record for a misdemeanour which he believes does not serve criminal justice.
The most frequent charge under lockdown was for failing to confine oneself to one's residence. And we know of people who were arrested for selling achar, people arrested for going to buy medication or even groceries.Howard Dembovsky - Justice Project SA
He says it came down to the discretion of the police to decide if someone was telling the truth or not which is a major difficulty.
Of those thousands who paid admission of guilt fines, he says, some, but not all, will have criminal records.
It is dependent on whether you are arrested or not as to whether you incur a criminal record or not when you pay an admission of guilt fine.Howard Dembovsky - Justice Project SA
So if you were arrested, your fingerprints were taken, a docket is registered, you are given a warning statement, you then pay and they register a criminal record on the Criminal Record Centre called the CRC.Howard Dembovsky - Justice Project SA
But, if you were not formally arrested, the SAPS then just issue the offender with a receipt but do not register that person with a criminal record
How do you get rid of such a criminal record, asks Refilwe?
The saddest part is that you don't. You have to wait out a period of ten years and only after those ten years have elapsed are you entitled to then apply for that record to be expunged.Howard Dembovsky - Justice Project SA
Expungement is not automatic after ten years. One has to apply for it. and hope for the best.
He says this is creating a parallel pandemic to Covid-19.
You are taking people and creating artificial criminals out of them. They are excluded from employment opportunities, excluded from travel opportunities - so you turn artificial criminals into real ones because you exclude them from the economy.Howard Dembovsky - Justice Project SA
The Cogta minister could easily have made these administrative fines to avoid this entire problem, he concludes.
Listen to the interview below:
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