Legal firm Wright Rose Innes recently dealt with the question of whether South Africans can be arrested at a roadblock for outstanding traffic fines.
The short answer is that you can be arrested for outstanding traffic fines, it said.
However, this can only happen where the fine was either personally handed to you or where a summons was properly served on you in relation to a fine such as for example, a camera fine for speeding which was not paid in the prescribed time, the law firm said.
“Only these documents will have a court date on them before which this payment of the fine must be made. Should you choose not to settle the fine, representations can be made to the prosecutor of the relevant court or you can attend this court before which you will have to state your case.
“However, if you neglect or choose not to exercise any of the above-mentioned options, your case will be called on the due date and because of your absence a warrant for your arrest may be authorised/issued by the magistrate for failure to appear before court with the execution thereof becoming a possibility no less than 14 days after summons to appear in court has been served.”
The firm explained that such a warrant is issued under the Criminal Procedure Act, and is just as serious as a warrant of arrest for any other crime.
“Technically, at this point, you are fair game to be arrested anywhere, with the main purpose of the warrant not being to secure payment of the fine but rather to bring you before the appropriate court.
“Because many of these warrants go unexecuted because of resource and logistical challenges, it may happen that these warrants are executed when you are stopped at a roadblock.”
What happens when pulled over?
Should you be pulled over at a roadblock and made aware that you are placed under arrest on strength of such a warrant, you have the right to request to see the warrant and it must be presented to you, said Wright Rose Innes.
However, it warned that if the system shows you have a warrant and you request to see it, the officer in turn has the right to detain you for a reasonable period of time whilst obtaining the original document before continuing with the arrest.
“As with any arrest you must be made aware of your rights verbally at the time of the arrest and also sign a document listing these rights upon being detained at the police station,” it said.
“The arresting officer must be clearly identifiable in full uniform and be able to provide you with his appointment certificate upon your request.
“If your rights are infringed upon at any stage of these proceedings, it is highly advisable not to be rebellious or be aggressive towards the officer in question. Remain calm and handle the situation with the necessary decorum, noting which rights where infringed as well as the identity of the officer doing so,” the law firm said.
It noted that it is highly advisable to phone and inform your attorney that you have been arrested and where you will be taken and if any rights were infringed upon.
Although practices may vary among provinces, generally you will either be taken directly to court (if the time of day permits this) or to the police station nearest to the roadblock, it said.
Here you will be given the option to either pay an admission of guilt fine and be released, or you can elect to be brought before the relevant court indicated on the relevant summons.
“If you elect not to pay, it must be noted that you will be detained until you can be brought before the relevant court.” Wright Rose Innes said.
“If the roadblock is outside of Bloemfontein and the warrant for your arrest was issued in Colesberg, you will be taken there and detained until your appearance before that court,” it said.
The firm said that generally, paying the admission of guilt fine is a good option, especially as this will not reflect on your criminal record if for minor offences.
“However, it would be advisable to talk to your attorney before making any decision as there are a number of factors to be considered when deciding on the right course of action.”