Cape Town - While it’s great to know that there will be a strong law enforcement presence on South Africa’s roads over the Easter long weekend, it also means there will be more roadblocks than usual on major routes, and law-abiding motorists like you and I are more likely to encounter one.
It’s important to know what your rights are and how to respond if you’re asked to pull over at a police or traffic services roadblock, particularly in light of recent incidents of alleged police brutality.
Kirstie Haslam, partner at DSC Attorneys, offered the following advice and tips if you are stopped:
If you’re stopped on the road
Pull over when you’re flagged down; don’t drive away. Stay calm, cordial and respectful. Give personal details when requested.
If you are presented with a fine or infringement notice, sign it and avoid a roadside argument - you can’t win it there.
Don’t offer a bribe or agree if one is requested - you’ll be prosecuted.
If a uniformed member of the police or a traffic official stops your vehicle and asks for your identity details, you are required to comply.
A traffic officer is permitted to ask to see your driving licence, which you should always have on you when driving, and your ID.
“In some cases, members of the police may also demand to see your vehicle license, or require that you present it at a police station within a week,” Haslam explains.
Your right to verify the authenticity of a roadblock
You are allowed to ask to see an officer’s identification. Failure to provide this is a violation of section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Act. But you can’t force a cop to do anything he doesn’t want to; if he refuses, stay calm and take note of their vehicle details to report later.
Haslam also pointed out that you are not entitled to refuse being stopped and even searched at a roadblock - but you are allowed to ask to see written authorisation for the roadblock from the National or Provincial Police Commissioner.
"If, for any reason, you are not convinced of the validity of a roadblock,” she said, “you can request to be taken to the nearest police station.”
If your vehicle is found to be unroadworthy
If a police or traffic enforcement officer deems your vehicle unroadworthy, they may take one of the following actions:
Request that you drive the car only to get to your destination or for a short distance
Remove your vehicle licence disc from the windscreen
Demand that you cease to drive the vehicle immediately.
Since law enforcement officials are within their power here, Haslam says that it’s unwise to challenge any of these actions.
Arrest for outstanding fines
Haslam points out that you may not be arrested for an outstanding fine unless the officer can show you a valid copy of the arrest warrant. If the officer can’t show you a warrant but wants to arrest you anyway, ask to call your lawyer immediately.
"If the officer does have a warrant, however,” she said, “the police have the right to detain you until you can pay the outstanding amount.”
Even if no warrant has been issued, officers may still issue you with a summons, provided the court date given is a minimum of two weeks in the future, not counting Sundays or public holidays. Then, if you fail to appear, you’re in contempt of court and a warrant will be issued.
Driving under the influence
There are strict procedures officers must follow in when they suspect you’ve been drinking and driving. Haslam says to take note of the following:
If an officer asks whether you have been drinking and you have, say so. It’s up to the breathalyser to show whether you’re over the limit - but if you lie and the breathalyser suggests otherwise it will work against you in court.
You may not unreasonably refuse to be breathalysed. If your blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit (0.05g/dl), you will be taken to a mobile unit, clinic or hospital for blood to be drawn.
You have the right to insist on the use of sterile, clean equipment (opened in front of you) for drawing blood. If you don’t believe these health standards are being met, you may refuse to have blood taken until the situation is remedied.
You can also call your own doctor, provided they can get there within the two-hour limit; if the prosecution intends relying on the results of the blood samples to prove the case, these blood samples have to be taken within two hours of you being stopped, so keep an eye on the time.
A police officer should stay present when your blood is being taken.
You may be detained while your case is being processed, but you should be detained with others of your own gender only.
If you are arrested
You must be told your rights immediately.
You must be taken directly to the nearest station.
You have the right to appear in court within two days.
You can apply for bail at the station, unless you are being held for a serious offence.
You still have the right to be treated professionally and with respect for your human dignity.
Unlawful arrests and police brutality
Haslam says that unfortunately, unlawful arrests and police brutality are a common occurrence in South Africa.
“If you are ever a victim of unlawful, injurious behaviour, such as in the video below, you may have grounds to launch a personal injury case of police brutality or unlawful arrest against the South African Police Services or the Metropolitan Police Department in your city.”
To successfully claim damages, Haslam says that it’s important to begin the claim process as soon as possible after an assault or wrongful arrest occurs, because there are cut-off times to factor in.
“To prepare, you should aim to gather: the names of the offending officers; witness(es) names and contact details; any relevant medical reports and invoices; and photographs of any visible injuries,” she adds.
If you believe you or another person is being badly treated or bullied by police or traffic officers, she says that it can help to get video or photo evidence.
“However, be sure to consider your safety if doing so at the scene - trying to film the actions of the police could make you more of a target,” she warned.
For more information visit the DSC Attorneys website.