The Prejudicial Effects of Criminal Records Attached to Your Name [opinion]

THANK you so much for allowing me space in your newspaper to share with your readership views and opinions on the above topical issue.

Reading an article in the De Rebus (digital) of April 2014 about “Sugar coating guilt admission fines – no easy fix,” I could vividly recall a lively discussion between myself and youths, whom I addressed on the eve of the Independence Day celebration two years back. What appeared to have stricken the chord with my younger interlocutors then, were the remarks I made to the effect that the youth should not allow criminal activities to stand in their way to becoming future leaders of our revolution and guardians of our hard-won independence.

In trying to make my point I asked them what they made of, or understood by fingerprints being taken from a suspect what purpose did they think it would serve and if or when that suspect is convicted and sentenced, what would the implicatios be.

I asked them further for how long in their opinion would these fingerprints be kept and what would the keeping of such fingerprints mean for someone looking for a job and should that job be a public office, and so on and so forth. I do not need to bore my readers with what my warning to the youth was intended to be, since stating it here would, in my humble view, appear patronizing.

The article in De Rebus deals with the payment of admission of guilt fines. In the said article the writer analyses and makes an expose as to how prejudicial, a posteriori, this apparently quick fix approach could be to the person affected. It also illustrates by way of example how even when the person admitting guilt has the benefit of legal representation, the negative and hidden implications of the admission of guilt are not fully explained to client or the person represented. At the end of the day admission of guilt just like the fingerprint story I was talking about will boil down to some kind of criminal record baggage attached to the name of a person or client thereby posing a threat of standing in hisher way to a prosperous future in both private and public understandings. Therefore, in as much as admission of guilt payment appears to be the quickest way out of a possibly long and protracted court case, it has serious implications in the long run for the ‘guilty’ party.

Even if the client or person affected opts for it out of their own volition, my experience is that such option is taken from an uninformed position. More often than not, the option is taken on the basis of what I would call ‘folklore aice’. “So and so had such a similar transgression and didn’t have to go to court, heshe simply paid the fine, it is done!”

It also has attendant inaccuracies if one takes into account the circumstances under which it is aised and by whom such aice is given. At the risk of appearing to be mean, in most cases the aisors are themselves in dire need of aice. In legal fraternities it is a well-known principle that no one gives (sells) a commodity they do not possess. What I mean by inaccuracies in the aice is the sure manner of the kind associated only with exact-sciences. In this case one office or friend would instantly constitute themselves into a court and there and then pass a verdict: “you will not win this case, this is a lost case already, and you will lose more money if you were to go the court route, just pay the fine.” On one hand such or spot ‘judges or magistrates’ are oblivious of the tests the court would normally use in adjudicating or weighing up cases. They would not apply the test of a reasonable man or woman on the circumstances or the famous ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, the balance of probabilities in civil matters, etc, etc. or the test of the reasonable man in the street. (Or should I say man or woman in the circumstances or in the village footpath of Katjinakatji or in the dusty streets of Tseiblaagte).

On the other, the favourable possibilities that would be afforded to the accused to defend themselves against the charges or mitigate the sentence are all removed from the equation by the spot or folklore aisor. I am not saying it is always wrong to pay admission of guilt fines or that they do not have a positive role to play in our legal system. They are helpful to the quick dispensing of justice, but remember the word to underline is justice: not just to the system but also to the accused! All I am saying in the final analysis, be it in the wake of GBV, cyber-crimes, or the traffic fine debate criminal records, just like fingerprints have far reaching consequences that outweigh the apparent short-term benefits they are purported to provide that outweigh the quick fix or easy way out. Conviction in a court of law in whatever shape or form have the mammoth potential of standing between you and your dreams and they must whenever possible be avoided!

Tommy Nambahu is an admitted Attorney (Legal Practitioner) currently serving as Member of Parliament and Deputy Justice Minister of Namibia.

Source : New Era