What are my rights when “pulled over” by a police or traffic officer

A uniformed police officer has the right to stop any vehicle at any time. If you are stopped by the police, you are obliged to give your name and address, if required, and any other particulars concerning your identity. You are entitled, however, to ask such a person, whether in uniform or not, for proof of identify. You may demand to see their appointment certificate (identity card).

The Criminal Procedure Act is very clear in stating that an officer who cannot or will not provide an appointment certificate on demand is in violation of the Act and that any actions that he or she takes will be unlawful if such a certificate is not provided. In terms of the National Road Traffic Act, a traffic officer does have the authority to demand your driver’s license, which by law must be kept on the driver’s person or in the vehicle. In some cases, the license must be shown to a police officer at any police station within seven days. A police officer may order that the use of a vehicle considered un-roadworthy be discontinued immediately. They may, alternatively, specify that the vehicle may only be used for a limited period or to reach a specific destination. They are empowered to remove the clearance certificate (license disc) from the windscreen.

When stopped in a roadblock, traffic authorities regularly try to create the impression that you have no option but to settle your fines there and then under threat of arrest. The fact is that they cannot under any circumstances arrest or detain you (same thing) for an outstanding traffic fine for which there is no warrant of arrest.

They may serve you with a summons to appear in court, as long as the court date on that summons is at least 14 days in the future (Sundays and public holidays excluded) but they may not force you to pay there and then.

If a law enforcement official wants to arrest you, you have the responsibility not to resist arrest in any way.

A male officer may not physically search a female and vice versa.

The Constitution forbids arbitrary search and seizure of your person, your property or possessions. If you are stopped by law enforcement officials they must have a valid belief that you may have been involved in the commission of a crime and that a search warrant would be issued by a Magistrate or Judge if they wish to search you or your vehicle and/or seize your possessions.

This applies to “random pull-overs” where you are singled out by law enforcement authorities.

It does not apply to properly constituted roadblocks where search and seizure is in fact authorized prior to the roadblock being set up.

If you are arrested, you must be informed of your rights immediately when you are arrested. If you are arrested, you must be taken directly to a police station. Driving around with you in the back of a vehicle for extended periods of time is not acceptable.

If you are detained, you have the right to be brought before a court within 48 hours of your detention.

In most cases, you will have the right to apply for and be granted bail at the police station. It is only in the case of serious crimes that your application for bail can only be heard by a court.

You will be informed on what date and in which court you are required to appear.

You will have to pay an amount as is set down to guarantee your appearance in court.

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