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The challenge of having a criminal record

By Faeza
28 September 2016

Many people do not know that with every little crime committed, there’s a possibility of an unpleasant future. Most people commit crime without thinking about the consequences of having a criminal record. A criminal record is the formal record of offences that someone has been convicted of when they have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty. However, if a person is not found guilty it will not appear on their record.


Getting a criminal record is much easier than people may think, and very few people even realise that taking shortcuts, receiving bad advice, or doing anything that is against the law can ruin the rest of their lives. Getting a criminal record does not mean a person needs to commit a serious crime such as murder, rape and robbery, but offenders could get a criminal record by committing what they might think are smaller crimes or unrecognised crimes. In his experience, a South African Police Services warrant officer from the Eastern Cape, Mgcineni Nqwenani, says men aged between 21 and 40 are the ones who commonly get a criminal record. “We open cases of theft, shoplifting and sometimes assault almost every day, all of them committed by young men. We’ve realised that they are not aware that these small crimes can get them sentenced,” he says. He says swearing at someone, if charged, can also lead to a criminal record as the state considers it defamation of character.


Having a criminal record can affect a person in many different ways. It can have serious implications for an individual’s prospects of finding employment or wanting to travel outside the country. Constable Amanda Nonkqayi, also from the South African Police Services in the Eastern Cape, says someone with a criminal record may face challenges when they want to travel. “A person with a criminal record will not be granted a visa, which means they cannot travel to other countries. Applying for a job will not be easy either, unless that person provides proof from the police stating that their case has been closed,” she says.


In order for a criminal record to be cleared from your personal record, you will first have to apply for it. However, the law states that a person may only apply to have their criminal record cleared if 10 years has lapsed after the date of the conviction of the offence, and if the person has not been convicted of any other offence and sentenced to a period of imprisonment without the option of a fine during those 10 years. A person must note that before submitting an application, a clearance certificate showing that a period of 10 years has lapsed after the conviction and sentence of an offence, must be obtained from the South African Police Services’ Criminal Record Centre.