Your rights if stopped at a roadblock

Know your rights and don’t be afraid to report incidents of intimidation either at your local police station or to:

Corruption Watch and/or

Justice Project: 087 809-0399 and

Always have these numbers handy on your cell phone (that I suggest you save under ‘Lawyer’ or ‘Lawyer / Traffic’) namely your lawyer and the Anti-Corruption Hotline 0800 203 172.

These are your rights:

  • Police and traffic officers are within their rights to stop you at a roadblock, and you can’t refuse to be stopped and even searched. However, if you are wary, you may ask to see written authorisation for the roadblock from the National or Provincial Police Commissioner before you submit. If, for any reason, you are not convinced of the validity of a roadblock, you can request to be taken to the nearest police station.
  • Police officers are required to have their names displayed on their uniforms. If this is not present, you may request the officer for his or her name and for proof of identify (appointment certificate). An officer who cannot or will not provide an appointment certificate on demand is in violation of the Criminal Procedure Act.
  • Often, things get out of hand. If the officer refuses to show you identification, remember that all official police vehicles have a code printed on the side. The letters represent the name of the station and the digits represent the squad car number. If you are being harassed, it is advisable to try to remember this code. Better still, if you think it is appropriate – given the police officer’s demeanour – use your phone to take a picture of the officer, his or her name tag (if displayed), the code and the vehicle’s licence number. Also tell him or her that you are going to call your lawyer and the Anti-Corruption Hotline, for advice. That often diffuses the situation
  • It is unlawful for a traffic officer to tell you that you have no option but to settle your outstanding fines, there and then, under threat of arrest. You cannot be detained unless there is a warrant for your arrest relating to an unpaid fine and the officer can show you a valid copy of the warrant. If he can’t and still wants to arrest you, call your lawyer immediately.
  • You can be detained until you pay an outstanding file for which there is a valid warrant for your arrest. Normally, the fine needs to be paid to a traffic department, and an official receipt should be issued. The only time you may be required to pay on the spot is at a roadblock where there is a formal cash facility.
  • A uniformed police or traffic 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.
  • In terms of the National Road Traffic Act, a traffic officer does have the authority to demand that you produce your driver’s license, which, by law, must be kept on you or in your car.
  • If a traffic officer asks you to sign for a traffic fine or summons to appear in court, just sign for it don’t argue.
  • If a law enforcement official wants to arrest you, don’t resist arrest, co-operate fully and remain calm. Do not flee or allow your first response to be an aggressive one. Never offer to pay a bribe. Should you resist arrest, the arresting officer may use reasonable force to arrest you.
  • If you are arrested, you have the right to:
    • Be taken directly to a police station (and not driven around, aimlessly);
    • Be informed promptly of the reason for being detained;
    • Be brought before a court within 48 hoursof your detention.
    • Choose to, and consult with an attorney of your choice, and should you not have the means to appoint an attorney of choice, to have a legal practitioner assigned by the state, at the state’s expense, and to be promptly informed of such rights.
    • Communicate with, and be visited by, your spouse or partner, next of kin, chosen religious counsellor, and chosen medical practitioner.
  • If he deems your car to be un-roadworthy, a police officer may order that you get out of the vehicle and stop using it, immediately. Alternatively, he may direct that you can use the car for a limited period or to reach a specific destination. He can remove the licence disc from the windscreen.
  • Police officers also have the right to search your car. However, if you feel endangered, you are within your rights to ask the police officer to accompany you to the nearest police station to do the search. This search is only allowed if the officers have a valid and reasonable belief that you may have been involved in the commission of a crime andthat a search warrant would be issued by a magistrate or judge.
  • A police officer has the right to ask you to step out of your vehicle and search you, as well. However, a man may not search a woman.
  • If an officer suspects that you have been drinking and are over the legal limit, (0.05g/), note that:
    • You can’t unreasonably refuse to breathe into a breathalyser;
    • If the test shows that you are over the limit, the officer first has to take you to the nearest police station to open a docket reporting the facts of the case;
    • They must then take you to a mobile unit, clinic or hospital for blood to be drawn. You must insist on the use of sterile, clean equipment (opened in front of you) for drawing blood. Bear in mind that blood samples are valid only if they are taken within two hours of your being stopped;

Provided he or she can get there in time, you have the right to have you own doctor present when the state doctor or nurse takes your blood.

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