If you are accused of a contravention and offered the option of paying an “admission of guilt” fine to avoid a court appearance, beware! It may seem like the easy way out to pay up and put the whole thing behind you but it could land you with a criminal record.
You really don’t want to have a criminal record!
Having a criminal record comes with serious and lifelong negative consequences. Even an old and long-forgotten minor offence can hang around in the background until it suddenly pops up at the worst possible times – such as when you apply for a travel visa or a new job.
When are you most at risk?
The general rule is that you will acquire a criminal record if you are arrested, if the police open a docket and take fingerprints, and if you are thereafter convicted of a crime.
The problem with admission of guilt fines is that they may well leave you with a “deemed” conviction and sentence which will end up in the CRC (SAPS Criminal Record Centre) database. Although there was talk in the past of the CRC capturing convictions with just your name and I.D. number the main risk seems to still be in having your fingerprints taken.
It’s not easy to get rid of a criminal record
And once you have a criminal record, it’s not easy to get rid of it.
1. Firstly, you can apply for “expungement” of the record to remove it from the CRC database, but that option is only available to you after 10 years and for certain “minor offences”. It will also take a long time to process – “20 – 28 weeks” per SAPS. Note that some specified minor convictions fall away automatically after 10 years – ask for specific advice.
2. Secondly, you could ask a court to set aside your conviction and sentence – costly, not quick and not guaranteed to succeed.
3. Thirdly, you could hope that planned amendments to our criminal procedure laws will retrospectively come to your aid – speculative and not yet in the pipeline.
The bottom line – if you are offered the option of paying an admission of guilt fine, ask for advice before you accept!
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. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)