Losing Your Licence with AARTO Demerits: More Danger than You Thought, and The Wheels are Turning

Losing Your Licence with AARTO Demerits: More Danger than You Thought, and The Wheels are Turning

“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers” (humourist Dave Barry) 

AARTO (the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act) has been partially in force for years, but its demerit provisions have been on ice for so long now that many of us have lost sight of just how seriously it will impact both ourselves as individuals, and our businesses. 

Every individual and every business is at risk

Law-abiding motorists will no doubt welcome the crackdown on serial traffic offenders, but we also need to manage the risks.  

Every motorist, every vehicle owner, every professional driver and every transport operator will be at serious risk of losing their licences/permits/operator cards.  Even businesses outside the transport sector will need to manage this – what happens if your sales people are grounded or your office staff can’t drive to work?

The wheels are turning fast now, with amendments to the Act at long last passed by Parliament, and set to come into law when signed by the President. 

Will it be delayed yet again?

The demerit proposal has been bouncing around for a decade, with several false starts and there is talk of court challenges, plus the commencement date may or may not be delayed.

But at long last the wheels are definitely turning, and turning fast. 

Be prepared! 

Unlucky 13 – easier to reach than you thought

The demerit system is complicated, but in a nutshell you will in addition to paying a fine incur demerit points for a whole range of offences. 

And anyone with 13 or more demerits will have their driver’s licence/professional driving permit/operator card automatically suspended (3 months’ suspension for every point over 12).  And 3 suspensions will result in full cancellation.  

Don’t think that 13 demerits will necessarily take the average driver a long time to accumulate. Consider the demerit points applicable to some sample offences (there are many thousands of them – the table below gives just a few examples).

Sample offences and demerit points
Reducing demerit points, and discounts on fines 

You are also rewarded for obeying the law –
Any demerit points you have picked up are reduced by one point per 3 month period you remain offence-free. 

Early payment of fines will earn you a 50% discount. Set up a payment control system so you don’t miss payment deadlines.

Businesses and employers – manage your risks

Think now about how you will manage the risk of your employees (especially those employed as drivers) repeatedly offending –
How will you monitor your drivers’ demerit points?  Although for many offences both driver and operator will incur demerits, some driver offences will apply to the driver only.  

Are your employment contracts correctly structured to ensure you have access to your employees’ demerit points’ status? And to deal with the consequences if they have their licences suspended or cancelled? 

Check your insurance policies – must you disclose any changes in your employees’ demerit status?  Are you at risk of losing cover? 

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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Traffic Fines and Admissions of Guilt – Will They Earn You a Criminal Record?

Traffic Fines and Admissions of Guilt – Will They Earn You a Criminal Record?

“We must not make a scarecrow of the law” (Shakespeare)

A criminal record, even for a minor offence from decades back, comes with very serious and lifetime consequences. It will hang around forever, just waiting to ambush you when you apply for a job, or a travel visa, or a firearm licence. 

So acquiring a record inadvertently is the stuff of nightmares, and the question is whether you can land yourself in that position by paying an admission of guilt fine? The reality is that we are beset by so many laws and regulations covering every aspect of our lives that most of us have paid admission of guilt fines at one time or another. Usually it’s just to avoid having to defend ourselves in the unpredictability and delay of an over-burdened court system. Sometimes it’s the more serious matter of avoiding a stay in a police cell.

A remedy, but it’s not ideal 

The remedy, once you do have a record, is to apply for “expungement” of the record to remove it from the CRC (SAPS’ Criminal Record Centre)’s database. Expungement is however only available to you after 10 years and for certain “minor offences” – plus your application will 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.

All in all, prevention is very definitely better than cure.

When are you at risk?
  • 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.
  • Does that apply to admission of guilt fines? Firstly, with traffic offences find out what section of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) is involved. Minor offences – speeding, licence offences, illegal parking and the like are normally “Section 341/Schedule 3” offences, where there is no actual prosecution and therefore no criminal record to end up in the CRC.
  • Other offences however will likely be dealt with as “Section 57/57A” offences. An admission of guilt in those cases lands you with a “deemed” conviction and sentence, and until recently, that deemed conviction and sentence could well have ended up in the CRC database. In practice you would probably still have been in the clear if you weren’t actually arrested and fingerprinted, but several years ago there was talk of convictions being captured with just a name and ID number. If you want to be sure, apply for a clearance certificate – see “Applying for a Police Clearance Certificate (PCC)” on the SAPS website.
  • A “Section 56 Written Notice to Appear in Court” may also give you the option of paying an admission of guilt fine to avoid appearance in court – in which event section 57 would apply as above.
  • The point though is that a recent High Court decision means that any admission of guilt fine – even a section 57/57A one and even after an arrest and fingerprinting – should not lumber you with a “permanent conviction”. 

In other words, the new position is that while a court-imposed conviction and sentence will end up in the CRC, an admission of guilt fine should not. 

Let’s illustrate with a look at the case of the roadside grass seller…

A grass seller’s R500 admission of guilt fine comes back to haunt him
  • In 2010 a roadside seller of instant grass quarreled with another grass seller about use of a particular spot on the road. The other seller laid assault charges against him, alleging he slapped her twice and pushed her.
  • Arrested, detained and fingerprinted, the accused paid a R500 admission of guilt fine when given the option to do so. Per standard procedure a magistrate then “examined” the documents and the accused’s “deemed” assault conviction and sentence were entered firstly into the court’s record books and then into the CRC database.
  • The accused learned of his criminal record for the first time when in 2018 he applied to become an Uber driver (a police clearance certificate being an Uber requirement).
  • He turned to the High Court to set aside his conviction and sentence on the basis that he thought signing the admission of guilt was his only way of obtaining release from custody and that his rights had not been explained to him. Effectively he denied the assault, and took the chance that the State might still decide to pursue the prosecution in court.
  • The Court set aside our grass seller’s conviction and sentence, characterising this type of admission of guilt as “not a verdict” but rather “essentially an agreement between the State and the accused” intended only for “trivial offences”, and involving no consideration as to “whether the accused was in fact and in law guilty of the offence”. 
  • The Court: “A conviction and sentence following an entry into the admission of guilt record book by the clerk of the criminal court in the magistrates’ court is not a conviction whose record is permanent” nor “to be entered in the Criminal Record System”.
The bottom line

The Court found that this accused had been pressured into admitting guilt and ordered that the Minister of Police be served with a copy of its order with a view to taking advice from the Commissioner of Police in “devising policy to address the criticism that the SAPS use arrest and detention to force vulnerable members of society who fear being locked up, to admit guilt on petty crimes using arrest and the threat of continued detention.”

But even once such a new policy emerges, be careful here and have your lawyer advise you in the slightest doubt.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

Dagga – Just How Legal is it Now?

Dagga – Just How Legal is it Now?

The media has been awash with reports (sometimes conflicting, often vague) of what the recent Constitutional Court ruling actually means in practice.

Whether you agree with the ruling or not, and whether or not you personally have ever had (or intend to have) anything to do with cannabis/marijuana/weed/dagga, we all need to be aware of the implications. Here’s some food for thought –

    • Err on the side of caution: Parliament has two years to change the relevant Acts to cure their constitutional defects. Until it does so, there will be many grey areas and your best course of action is always going to be to err on the side of caution. You really don’t want to be funding a test case in court, particularly if your job or your clean criminal record is at stake.
    • The limits of the ruling: The Court’s decision has not comprehensively “legalised dagga”. What it has done is to provide that, until the Acts are amended, it could not be a criminal offence for an adult person –
      • To use or be in possession of cannabis in private for his or her personal consumption in private; and
      • To cultivate cannabis in a private place for his or her personal consumption in private.

Any form of supply or purchase, even in private, and any possession or use by a minor (under 18), anywhere, would still put you at risk of a criminal record and heavy penalties.

  • The danger of arrest: As the Court put it, if a police officer finds a person in possession of cannabis and thinks it is not for personal consumption, then “He or she will ask the person such questions as may be necessary to satisfy himself or herself whether the cannabis he or she is in possession of is for personal consumption.  If, having heard what the person has to say, the police officer thinks that the explanation is not satisfactory, he or she may arrest the person.  Ultimately, it will be the court that will decide whether the person possessed the cannabis for personal consumption.” Similar considerations will, said the Court, apply to questions around cultivation.There is also no clarity on what will be considered to be a “private place” other than the Court’s comment that there are places other than “a person’s home or a private dwelling” where the right to privacy would apply.

    The bottom line – you still risk arrest on suspicion of having or growing more dagga than a police officer considers reasonable for your personal consumption, or in a place that you consider “private” but that a police officer doesn’t.

  • Driving under the influence: Our law provides that: “No person shall on a public road … drive a vehicle or occupy the driver’s seat of a motor vehicle of which the engine is running … while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or a drug having narcotic effect” (our underlining). Effective testing by police if you are pulled over is another matter entirely, but does anyone really want to risk a stay in a police cell while a test is arranged?
  • In the workplace: Since the court’s ruling applies only to “private places” it seems unlikely that employees could ever get away with use or possession in a standard office situation. But what about an employee pitching for work whilst still under the influence? Practical issues of proof aside, it is probably an extremely bad idea. Employees have a general duty to perform their functions properly and doing anything to compromise that probably puts you at risk of at the very least a disciplinary warning. Of course anyone in a job where 100% sobriety is a non-negotiable necessity (think heavy machinery operators, surgeons, pilots and the like) risks a lot more than just a warning.

 

Employers: a final note

Having a properly-drawn “sobriety policy” in place will reduce the risk of confusion and dispute in the workplace. If you have a policy in place already, ask your lawyer to check that it adequately covers you in light of these new developments.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as 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 professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

© LawDotNews

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