What are your rights during a traffic road block? | iinfo TZANEEN

The borders grow very dim and sometimes disappear in a society where those who should maintain law and order and set sterling examples are found breaking the rules themselves – or are "replaced" by criminals posing in their roles. Another problem is that most people don't know their rights, nor even that they have any in, for example, a traffic road block.
 
Motorists first need to know whether they have been stopped at an informal or a 'real' roadblock. The latter are allowed to search you and/or your vehicle without a warrant whereas informally, they're only allowed to conduct a search if they can later prove extraordinary circumstances in a court of law.
 
In the case of an informal roadblock, it is your legal right to request to see a warrant or refuse permission for the search.
 
Here are a few more pointers:
 
A uniformed police or traffic officer has the right to stop any vehicle at any time. If stopped, you are obliged to give your name and address and any other particulars concerning your identity. You are entitled to ask such a person, whether in uniform or not, for proof of identity. You may demand to see their identity card or proof of who/what they say they are. (This is, of course, to safeguard you from trouble or danger, like a hijack.)
 
An officer who cannot or will not provide abovementioned on demand, is in violation and any actions that he or she takes will be unlawful. In terms of the National Road Traffic Act, a traffic officer has the authority to demand your driver's license, which must be kept on the driver's person or in the vehicle at all times. It won't go down well to say that it is in your other handbag or in your other vehicle etc.
 
An officer-of-law may order that an unroadworthy vehicle may not be used, or used for a limited period, or to reach a specific destination. They may remove the licence disc from the windscreen.
 
When stopped at 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. However, they cannot arrest or detain you for an outstanding traffic fine for which there is no warrant of arrest.
 
Detention and arrest are NOT the same thing. Detention might be described as brief and cursory holding and questioning of someone, e.g. being stopped to be questioned for suspicious behaviour. The suspect isn't free to leave, but he also isn't under arrest, at least until the officer develops 'probable cause'. Reasonable or probable cause would be if the person who was pulled over starts misbehaving (name calling, insults, swearing, attempting to drive or run away etc). Detention also applies to traffic or equipment violations such as speeding, ignoring a red light or stop street, vandalising state equipment like a traffic light, stop or any other road sign etc.
 
If detained, you have the right to be brought before a court within 48 hours. In most cases, you will have the right to apply for and be granted bail at the police station. Only in cases of serious crimes, applications for bail are heard only in court. A detainee must know what date and in which court he/she must to appear. An amount paid guarantees appearance in court.
 
An arrest, on the other hand, involves the police taking someone into custody through more restraint on movement, involving the use of handcuffs and informing the person audibly that he/she is under arrest.
 
You may be served with a summons to appear in court, as long as the court date is at least 14 days in the future (Sundays and public holidays excluded). You may not be forced to pay there and then (which is almost common practice and is, in truth, "a bribe".)
 
What many people don't always grasp, is that individual has rights are always linked to responsibilities. If a law enforcement official wants to arrest you, your responsibility is to not resist in any way.
 
A male officer may not physically search a female and vice versa. Arbitrary search and seizure of your person, property or possessions is constitutionally forbidden. If you are stopped by law enforcement officials they must have reason to believe that you may have been involved in committing a crime. If they wish to search you or your vehicle, a Magistrate or Judge has to issue a search warrant.
 
You may therefore not be randomly singled out and pulled over. It does not apply to properly constituted roadblocks where search and seizure is authorised before the roadblock is set up.
 
Anyone arrested must be informed of their rights immediately and promptly be taken to a police station. Driving around with an arrestee in the back of a vehicle for extended periods of time is unacceptable.
 
Information gleaned from the answers of practitioners of law, the likes of GK Ganesan, International Lawyer, Arbitrator, Author (1993-present) and lawyer Jennifer Ellis.
 
 

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