SAPS officials have arrested more than 20,000 people for failing to comply with South Africa’s adjusted Level 3 lockdown restrictions introduced on December 28.
Police Minister Bheki Cele, who made the announcement on Wednesday, said most of the arrests concerned the country’s current ban on the sale and transport of alcohol.
He said about 7,000 people were arrested for not wearing a mask.
Cele said that when people are arrested for not wearing masks, they are taken to a police station where they are formally charged and have their fingerprints taken.
They then have the choice:
- Pay a guilty fine, which typically ranges from R300 to R1 500.
- Appear before the Magistrate Court and plead the charges
Admission of a guilty fine
The South African Police Service can give an arrested person suspected of a less serious crime the opportunity to pay a fine for admission of guilt.
Such a fine allows a person to admit guilt for a less serious offense without having to appear in court, thus avoiding unnecessary overloading of the justice system.
It also aims to resolve less serious matters quickly, when an accused accepts responsibility for committing a minor offense. However, with an admission of guilt comes a criminal record.
For this reason, legal experts have warned against paying a fine for conviction, as it means South Africans could be given a criminal record.
Defense attorney William Booth said Cape Talk that this criminal record remains in place for a period of up to 10 years, after which it may be erased. This has important implications for job seekers, he said.
“My opinion is that you are certainly not signing an admission of guilt form. Even if you have been taken to the police station and processed, the document will also have a date for you to appear in court.
“You have a number of options – in my opinion you immediately approach a lawyer. This lawyer can make representations to the attorney general of the magistrates court where you must appear.
“If you have a good record and your personal situation is important enough, you can request that your charges be dropped.”
Booth said these rights are often not properly explained when arresting agents and this was a problem even before the lockdown.
However, he said it had become “ overwhelmingly prevalent ” during the pandemic as regulations allow payment of admission of guilty fines.
The Department of Justice and Corrections has recognized the problems with the current system and is currently working on new legislation that will stop the admission of guilty fines attracting criminal records in South Africa.
In May 2020, Deputy Minister John Jefferies said the problem admitting guilty fines and criminal records had been on the government’s radar outside of the current coronavirus pandemic.
“This is something we wanted to address and it is something that will be (included) in a future bill on judicial matters,” he said.
“The idea will be that most admissions of guilty fines will not result in a criminal record.
“Sometimes due process is not properly followed and sometimes people are pressured to pay the fine and don’t realize that they are going to get a record and affect their rights.
“So that’s something we’re going to address.”
Read: 7,000 South Africans arrested for not wearing masks: Cele