You might be finding yourself in a situation where you are being accused of allegedly committing a criminal offence and have the option of paying an admission of guilt fine. Before considering paying the fine, you must first understand what it means and what the consequences are going to be if you do pay the fine.
The South African criminal law is based on the constitutional right that every accused person (someone who is charged for allegedly committing a criminal offence) is presumed to be innocent until his/her guilt has been proven. An accused can be found to be guilty by a court after a fair trial, alternatively, an accused can admit that s/he has committed the alleged criminal offence and that s/he is guilty.
An admission of guilt fine, therefore, gives an accused person the opportunity to admit his/her guilt and pay the required fine. This means that the criminal procedure is cut short and that there is no need for a lengthy trial. However, some may pay the admission of guilt fine without actually being guilty of committing the alleged criminal offence – only to realise the consequences thereof at a later stage.
When can an admission of guilt fine be paid?
If an accused is not arrested, s/he will be handed a summons or written notice. These are documents that inform the accused of the criminal offence s/he is being charged with, as well as the date, time and place s/he must appear in court. The summons or written notice will, generally, also include the option of paying an admission of guilt fine.
In practice, the most common would be a written notice issued by a peace officer, such as a police officer, under section 56 of the Criminal Procedure Act. The written notice would usually be given in minor criminal offences where the police officer believes that the accused will not be sentenced to a fine exceeding R5 000. For example, contravening lockdown regulations during the national state of disaster.
An admission of guilt fine can be paid before the accused appears in court, alternatively, can also be determined and paid after the accused has appeared in court, but before s/he has pleaded to the charges laid against him/her.
An admission of guilt fine must not be confused with bail. Bail is an amount of money paid to ensure the temporary release of an accused who has been arrested. The purpose of bail is to ensure that the accused will attend all his/her future court appearances. This means the criminal procedure will still continue and the accused must appear before court for his/her trial.
What are the consequences of paying an admission of guilt fine?
As already mentioned, the main consequence is that the accused admits that s/he did in fact commit the alleged criminal offence and that s/he is guilty. The Criminal Procedure Act clearly states that the payment of an admission of guilt fine will be the same as being convicted and sentenced in court.
This means that an accused will have a criminal record as it will be captured by the clerk of the Magistrate’s Court in the criminal record for admission of guilt fines. If the fine was paid at a police station, the relevant information and documents must be forwarded to the clerk of the Magistrate’s Court.
A document known as the SAP69 will list an accused’s previous convictions on his/her criminal record. The content of the SAP 69 will be linked to the fingerprints of an accused, however, the fingerprints are not always taken when paying an admission of guilt fine. This means that it is possible for previous convictions to not reflect on the SAP69. The clerk of the court can then provide written confirmation of such omitted offence by referring to the criminal record book.
Are there certain fines that will not lead to a criminal record?
If a person pays a penalty in terms of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act ("AARTO"), it will not lead to that person having a criminal record.
If a notice is issued under section 341 of the Criminal Procedure Act (notice of intention to prosecute), the notice will indicate that such person can pay a fine within 30 days. No summons has been issued yet and no court date is set in the notice. A person pays the fine in order not to be prosecuted and payment of this fine will not lead to a criminal record.
In light of the above, the decision to pay of an admission of guilt fine is not something that must be done taken lightly. Especially if the accused person did not commit the alleged criminal offence. It is important to investigate the document to establish under what part of the law it was issued. Recent case law indicated that the payment of an admission of guilt fine can be taken on review and set aside in certain instances, for example, if it was paid without understanding the full consequences thereof. However, the courts will take all facts into account before deciding to set it aside or not.