Admission of guilt fines are often given to people who have committed a less serious offence, such fines also assist in reducing the backlog in our overloaded court system as once it is paid the person does not have to appear in court. Should you ever be in this situation it is advisable to speak to your lawyer first before signing or paying anything, as it a short-term solution to get out of jail but people do not realize the serious long-term consequences of it. Once paid the person then has a criminal record against their name, this will affect the person when applying for jobs or visas and will prevent travel outside of the country.
It is the duty of the police to properly explain what the consequences are of paying an admission of guilt fine. Once paid the accused must be informed that they will be deemed of convicting the crime by a court, it will appear on their criminal record and once paying the fine you waive the right to contest the matter in court, confront the accusers, call witnesses or legal representation.
Often people confuse admission of guilt fines and bail. Once the fine is paid it is deemed that the person is convicted of the offence and the matter is resolved, there is no need to appear in court and you will have a criminal record. On the other hand, a person cannot be forced to pay an admission of guilt fine. You should be given time to consider if you want to pay the fine or not, if it’s in the interests of justice you may be released first before paying the fine. However, bail is paid to ensure the temporary release of a person who has been arrested and to ensure that they will attend their future court hearings. When bail is paid there is still a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. You will appear in court again and the matter will be heard in front of a magistrate who will decide if you are guilty or not, only if found guilty will you have a criminal record.
Criminal records that arise from paying an admission of guilt fine will be valid for a period of 10 years, this has serious implications as it restricts your freedom of movement and the ability to choose a career. If a person is unaware of the criminal record against them due to paying the fine, they may approach the High Court however there are costs involved. Recent case law indicates that the payment of an admission of guilt fine may be taken on review and set aside if the person who paid it did not understand the full consequences of paying such. However, all factors will be taken into account by the court.
If a person is arrested there are rights that they should remember such as:
· The right to remain silent
· Be told of your right to remain silent
· The right not to make any admissions that can be used as evidence against you
· Choose to consult with your attorney or have one assigned to you by the state
· Be released from detention if you are arrested for allegedly committing a crime, if it is in the interest of justice to do so
· Be told of the reason why you were arrested
However not all fines are admission of guilt fines, if a fine is issued in terms of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act (AARTO) and is paid a person will not have a criminal record.
A notice issued in terms of section 341 of the Criminal Procedure Act (notice of intention to prosecute) will give a person 30 days to pay such fine, this fine is paid in order for the person not to be prosecuted and will not lead to a criminal record if paid.
If you are faced with this situation, which many South Africans were during the national lockdown for contravening the lockdown regulations in terms of the Disaster Management Act, it is of utmost importance to investigate the document and determine under which section of law it was issued under and rather take the matter to court than paying the fine which has serious long-term consequences. However, if you have already paid the fine issued in terms of the lockdown regulations and believe that the terms that it was issued was legally unfair you may still approach the court to have the outcome set aside.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.