Pretoria - People who face a minor criminal charge and pay an admission of guilt fine simply to get things over as quickly as possible could still end up with a criminal record against their name.
In the latest judgment concerning this topic, the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, overturned the conviction of a building material store worker on a charge of contravening the national lockdown regulations.
The court also ordered the National Prosecuting Authority and the police to pay back the R1 000 admission of guilt fine that he had paid, and immediately remove his name from the criminal register.
Knowledge Makhuvha approached court after he realised that he now had a criminal record against his name for something which he said was not his fault.
He was arrested in April 2020, a few days after the government proclaimed the hard level 5 lockdown following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.
He said his employer at the building supply firm where he worked issued him with a letter stating that he was an essential worker. However, the letter was never signed.
Makhuvha told the court that soon after the lockdown was implemented on March 26, 2020 he went to his homestead in Limpopo.
However, a few weeks later his employer had called him to say that their company was regarded as an essential service as it provided building material for emergency repairs.
He was told to return to work within a few days.
His supervisor subsequently sent him a permit to allow him to travel, Makhuvha said, which he received via WhatsApp. He said while it was not signed, his supervisor said there was no one at work during that weekend to sign it.
Makhuvha said that while he was travelling via a taxi to his work, they were stopped at a roadblock. He showed the SAPS his unsigned permit and was arrested with others for contravening the lockdown regulations.
He said he phoned his supervisor, who wanted to explain the situation to the police, but they would not listen.
According to Makhuvha, he was taken to the police station, where he was given the option to either pay an admission of guilt fine, or “go to prison until the end of lockdown”.
Makhuvha said that before he paid the admission of guilt fine, his employer sent another letter via WhatsApp, this time signed and stamped.
He attempted to show it to the police, but they refused to look at it.
He said as he was afraid of contacting Covid-19 while in a cell, as there was no social distancing, he agreed to pay the R1 000 fine. He, however, did not bargain on having a criminal record as a result, and the SAPS had never told him this.
Acting Judge Khwinana said that the purpose of allowing the payment of an admission of guilt fine was to enable a person to admit guilt in advance and thereby avoid having to appear in court on a “minor” criminal charge.
“Although the payment of a fine may seem innocuous, there could be serious consequences which may not be realised by the person who pays the admission of guilt fine,” he said.
These included that the person waived a number of rights, such as the right to defend a case and to be convicted beyond reasonable doubt. It also left a person with a criminal record.
“It is highly recommended that a person faced with the option of paying an admission of guilt fine should seek professional legal advice before doing so in order to enable that person to fully understand the consequences of his/her actions prior to doing so,” the judge advised. “It is unheard of that your accuser should be the one to also finalise your matter.”