Sod it: Judge turfs out grass-seller’s criminal record
If you pay an admission of guilt fine you cannot be saddled with a permanent record, judge rules
When another instant lawn merchant muscled in on Lloyd Madhinha’s turf, it began a sequence of events that could delete thousands of criminal records.
Madhinha paid a R500 admission of guilt fine at Goodwood police station in Cape Town after his rival accused him of assaulting her in 2010.
Eight years later, when the Zimbabwean wanted to be an Uber driver and needed a police clearance certificate, he was surprised to find he had a criminal record.
Madhinha went to the Cape Town High Court, which ruled that people who pay admission of guilt fines cannot be saddled with a permanent record.
Judge Daniel Thulare wiped Madhinha’s blotted copybook clean. “A conviction and sentence following an entry into the admission of guilt record book by the clerk … in a magistrate’s court is not a conviction whose record is permanent,” he said.
Thulare also ordered that his judgment be brought to the attention of police minister Bheki Cele, saying the officer who arrested and detained Madhinha instead of simply issuing him with a written notice contravened standing orders.
“The inescapable impression is that the detention of [Madhinha] and the threat of continued custody … [was to] put pressure on the accused to admit guilt and pay the stipulated fine,” he said.
The national police commissioner should “address the criticism that the SA Police Service uses arrest and detention to force vulnerable members of society, who fear being locked up, to admit guilt on petty crimes”.
In 2010, Madhinha arrived at his usual spot in the Bothasig suburb where he sold grass, only to find a rival seller had already moved into the space. An argument ensued and he was accused of pushing the rival around. He was then arrested for assault.
In an affidavit to the court, Madhinha said when he arrived at the police station after his arrest he was told to pay R500, stop selling turf next to a road in Bothasig, and go home. “I was not properly informed of my rights,” he said.
Thulare said payment of an admission of guilt fine was “a waiver by an accused of his right to have his case proved beyond reasonable doubt”.
But a permanent criminal record “should only follow where the evidence has established the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt”.