Vehicle checks and video recordings at roadblocks in South Africa – know your rights

 ·29 Mar 2024

When you get pulled over by a traffic officer in South Africa, it can be a stressful and even frightening experience, even if you haven’t done anything wrong.

Therefore, it’s essential to be aware of your constitutional rights in this situation for the next time you encounter it.

During an interview on 702 Drive, legal expert Ulrich Roux discussed the rights and responsibilities of drivers who are pulled over at a roadblock or roadside check. In the eyes of the law, both situations are treated the same.

Vehicle searches

Under the Criminal Procedures Act (CPA) and Road Traffic Act (RTA), the police are allowed to search your person and your vehicle if they have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.

For instance, if they suspect that you have been driving under the influence or you may have equipment commonly used for house burglary.

However, it is important to note that reasonable suspicion is crucial in determining whether the search is justified.

According to Roux, as a member of society, you have the right to ask why traffic officers search your vehicle and what their reasonable suspicion is.

You can also demand they present you with a search and seizure warrant legally obtained in court.

If they fail to provide any of these, you have the right to refuse them the opportunity to check your vehicle.

The expert advises that asking certain questions during a police search could lead the officer to accuse you of obstructing justice, which might result in your arrest if you refuse to allow them to search your belongings.

Unfortunately, some officials may misuse their power in such situations.

Therefore, staying calm and avoiding being confrontational is highly recommended to ensure your safety.

Additionally, you might want to call a family member or a lawyer when you are stopped by the police.

However, no law requires the officer to wait until someone else arrives before searching your vehicle.

According to Roux, “The CPA does not allow anyone to be assisted by another person.” As a result, when someone is pulled over, they usually call their attorney or a lawyer friend for advice.

If a traffic official pulls you over and they wish to search your vehicle, they may allow you to finish a phone call and wait for your lawyer to arrive before conducting the search.

However, according to Roux, this is not always the case, as officials often proceed with the search regardless of your requests.

Recording police

While the police may not wait for your lawyer to arrive, you have the right to record the entire interaction, either through video or with a voice recording, regardless of whether the official consents to it.

“The RICA Act explicitly states that any person who is a party to a conversation or an incident has the right to record it either through a camera or voice recording,” stated Roux.

“Unfortunately, the police have been known to abuse the crime of obstructing justice, which could result in a situation where they arrest you for filming without their permission, claiming you’re obstructing justice.”

It is important to note that you are not required to seek permission from a police officer to film them, and it is within your legal rights to record any situation you are involved in.

If you believe that the search of your vehicle was conducted illegally, you may file an application with the police to challenge the legality and validity of the search.

However, this can only be done after the search has taken place.

Read: Easter warning for homeowners and tenants in South Africa

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