“A few years back I was arrested for a minor crime. The case went to court, but was thrown out due to a lack of evidence. Over the past few years I’ve tried applying for various jobs, but have always been turned away despite the interviews going great. Does this mean I have a criminal record?”
The account above and many different variations on it is fairly common, and applies to people from all walks of life. Getting a criminal record is much easier than one would suppose, and isn’t limited to serious crimes.
And as employers increasingly check prospective and current employees for the presence of a criminal record – mainly to protect themselves – many jobseekers now face the prospect of remaining unemployed, or suddenly a lot closer to it due to an (often minor) incident which occurred years ago.
Could you have a criminal record?
A prevalent misconception exists that only cases which went to trial, and to which “guilty” verdicts were attached could result in criminal records. This misconception extends to the impression that paying a fine and subsequently avoiding trial ensures the absence of a criminal record. If, up until now, you’ve entertained these notions, then it may be time to let them go.
A criminal record is likely to exist for the person who paid a fine, regardless of how minor the offence.
More often than not, we find that individuals who were acquitted or whose cases were withdrawn also find themselves with a criminal record, or at least a record stating that a criminal case is pending against them (despite the passing of years).
Of course, the crux in matters like the above is that it is more often than not down to human error or oversight: where cases are thrown out, still appear pending, or acquittals are given, it’s up to the investigating officer to send the results of the hearing to the Criminal Record Centre (CRC) to clear the record of the individual(s) in question. This, with rather surprising frequency, does not happen, and records aren’t cleared.
Then, there are those instances where individuals who have never been arrested, have never seen the inside of a court or paid a fine as an admission of guilt, or have had no trouble with the law in any way, find that they too have criminal records – usually at critical junctures in life. Case in point Eliza Marthinus Lotz who was the unwitting owner of a criminal record for more 20 years, and only found out when applying for a job.
What should you do?
Cases like that of Eliza MarthinusLotz are luckily extremely rare. So if you’ve never had any brushes with the law, then chances are you have little to worry about.
However if you’re unsure or concerned due to an incident that occurred at any point in the past, then it’s advisable to start with a criminal record check. The results of this check can determine a course of action:
- You don’t have a record, and no further action is required.
- You do have a record, and now need to check whether you’re eligible for criminal record expungement. The criteria for the expungment process are:
- You were convicted for a lesser serious crime (such as theft, fraud, or assault) or a politically-motivated crime for which the punishment is now deemed unconstitutional
- Ten years have passed since the conviction, and you have not been convicted of another crime in those ten years
- You were given the option of paying a fine (R20,000 or less)
If you qualify for any of the above, then CSI Africa can help you through the rather lengthy criminal record expungement process.
Should you, however, have a criminal record for a serious offence such as murder, sexual offences (against children or disabled persons, or if your name is on the National Register for sex offenders), armed robbery, or assault with the intention to do grievous bodily harm, then it is likely that your application for expungement will not be successful.
For more information on any of the above, or to speak to a consultant, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org