“On my way on holiday the traffic police had a big roadblock where they appeared to be arresting people. I asked one of the traffic officers what was going on and he said they were arresting people for outstanding traffic fines. I pay my fines, so I have little sympathy for people that don’t, but I was still wondering what happens if you were to get arrested at such a roadblock and what you should do?”
Firstly, it must be understood that you can be arrested for outstanding traffic fines. Importantly though, 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. 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 authorized/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.
Such a warrant is issued under the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 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.
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. But take note - 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. 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.
At this point it is highly advisable to phone and inform your attorney that you were arrested and where you will be taken and if any rights where in fact infringed.
Although practices may vary from province to province, 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. 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. This means 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.
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.
Generally, though, prevention is better than cure, and it is advisable to be proactive and deal with traffic fines when you receive them and have peace of mind when approaching your next roadblock.