​Do you feel unsafe when being pulled over by the police?

​Do you feel unsafe when being pulled over by the police?
What to know if you are pulled over by the police

The South African Police Service (SAPS) or Metro Police have the right to pull over a car on the road and to search it. 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.

Chantel Cronje
Chantel Cronje - Head of Legal, Risk, and Compliance
11 December 2019

What to do if you feel unsafe?

Follow the 'blue light protocol'

  • Slow down
  • Put on your hazards
  • Indicate to the blue-light vehicle behind you to follow
  • Calmly drive no faster than 40km/h to the nearest police station, or public space with CCTV coverage (typically a service station forecourt).

This procedure was developed by JPSA and the Road Traffic Management Corporation.

The National Road Traffic Act provides for traffic officers to be identifiable

Enforcement officers are expected to carry their duties professionally within the ambits of our laws and the National Road Traffic Act provides for officers to be identifiable and members of the public are entitled to request identification or appointment certificates. Also the Criminal Procedure Act stipulates that an officer who cannot or will not provide such identification is in violation of the Act.

  • 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.
  • SAPS has the right to pull over a car on the road and to search it. 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.
  • 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.
  • A police officer has the right to ask you to step out of your vehicle and search you. However, women may request a female police officer to search them and if one is not present, the police have to call in another squad car to do the check.
  • 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.
  • In addition, in terms of the National Road Traffic Act, an officer does have the authority to demand your driver’s licence, which by law must be kept on the driver’s person or in the vehicle. In some cases, the licence must be shown to a police officer at any police station within seven days.

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 as provided in the Criminal Procedure Act.
  • 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 authorised prior to the roadblock being set up.

What if you are a victim of excessive force?

The Constitution, Bill of Rights says that the State must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right set out tin the Constitution which include the right to life, to be free from all forms of violence from public and private sources, not to be tortured, not be treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading way. Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed to assemble, demonstrate, picket or present petitions.

It is not illegal for offices to be photographed by members of the public while on duty performing their functions or to have video recordings made. ONLY where officers were impeded from carrying out their functions, then they can issue a warning and if the offender still persists, take the necessary action as required under the circumstance.

When can I be arrested?

  • A person may be arrested either on the strength of a warrant of arrest or when a police officer witnesses a person committing an offence or has probable cause to believe that a person was involved in the commission of a crime.
  • When approached by a police officer, one should remain calm. Do not flee or allow your first response to be an aggressive one.
  • Offer your co-operation to the officer, do not resist arrest and never offer to pay a bribe. Should arrest be resisted, then reasonable force may be used by the officer to affect the arrest.

What are my rights when being arrested?

  • You have the right to be informed of the charges on which you are being arrested.
  • Most importantly you have the right to remain silent, to be informed promptly of such right and the consequences of not remaining silent.
  • Any information uttered or willingly given to an officer may be used against you in court.
  • You may not be compelled to make any confession or admission that could be used as evidence against you.
  • A person further has the right to be brought before a court as soon as reasonably possible, but not later than 48 hours after the arrest. If the period of 48 hours expires outside ordinary court hours or on a day which is not an ordinary court day, the accused must be brought before a court not later than the end of the first following court day.
  • Once arrested you are required to tell the police your home address.
  • A police officer may not request any further information from you, in respect of your activities or organizations you are involved with.

What are my rights upon detention?

  • After an arrest you will, more often than not, be detained at a police station. In detention you may be searched.
  • You may however not be searched without your consent and a person of the same sex should conduct the search.
  • The police have the right to take your fingerprints and take photographs.

You have the right to:

  • Be informed promptly of the reason for being detained.
  • The police must inform a detainee of these rights and when informed it must be in a language that the person can understand.
  • Choose to, and consult with an attorney of his/her choice, and should such person 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.
  • Be contained in conditions that are consistent with human dignity, including at least exercise and the provision, at state expense, of adequate accommodation, nutrition, reading material and medical treatment.
  • Communicate with, and be visited by, the person’s spouse or partner, next of kin, chosen religious counsellor, and chosen medical practitioner.
  • Be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Police bail and warning

  • For minor offences ’police bail’ can be granted or the police may release you on a warning.
  • In the case of police bail the investigating officer will propose an amount for bail and an agreement should then be reached on the amount of bail.
  • After payment of this amount the arrested person may be released from custody.
  • There should always be an officer on duty of sufficient rank to make the decision to grant or refuse police bail.
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