Police powers and my rights

If you are under 25, you can contact us for free and confidential legal advice about this topic here. 

You have rights when dealing with the police, and there are laws that say how police can use their powers. It is a good idea to find out why the police want to talk to you before you answer their questions and to always stay polite and respectful, even if you think you are being treated unfairly.  

If you want to find out more about the laws around police arrests, check out our webpage here. 

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I have come into contact with the police. What should I do?

The police can approach and talk to you at any time. If you come into contact with the police, it’s a good idea to make sure you stay calm and respectful. We know dealing with police can be intimidating or scary, especially if you have had a bad experience in the past. But being aggressive or violent with police will probably make things worse, even if you have done nothing wrong. Resisting arrest by using physical force or running away, or threatening a police officer, are serious crimes.

If you feel like the police are treating you unfairly, it’s usually best to go along with it, and then get legal help. It is a good idea to take notes of what’s happened on your phone as soon as you can, and if you feel unsafe, ask police if you can contact an adult you trust. 

Do I have to tell the police my details?

In some situations, you must give personal details (like your name, date of birth, address and identification) when asked to by police. For example, if:   

  • police think you’ve broken, or are breaking, the law;
  • police think you can help them investigate a crime;
  • you are driving a car or riding a motorbike;4 
  • you are carrying a firearm; or 
  • you are at a place which serves alcohol and the police think you are under 18.  

In general, if you are unsure, it is a good idea to give the police your name and address and show them your ID when asked. It’s against the law to refuse to give your personal details and show your ID when legally required (without a good excuse), or to give police a fake name or address.

If you think the police don’t have a good reason to ask for your details, you can politely ask police why they need your personal details. You can also ask for their name, rank, and place of duty. The police, by law, have to tell you this information. It’s a good idea to write this down so you don’t forget. 

Questions and interviews

It is important to remember that you have a right to silence when talking to the police. This means that apart from giving your personal details in some situations, in general you do not have to answer their questions, even if you have been arrested and taken to a police station.

A police officer can ask you questions to find out who was driving, or who was the owner of a car at a particular time, or questions about firearms. It is an offence not to answer these questions, or to give false information, without a good excuse. 

If police ask you to go to an interview, we recommend you speak to a lawyer before you decide how you will respond. You generally can’t be forced to go to a police interview unless you are under arrest. If the police ask you to go to the station with them, it’s a good idea to ask if you’re under arrest. If you aren’t, you don’t have to go.  

It’s really important to remember that anything you say to police in an interview could be used in evidence against you. 

Can the police tell me to move on?

Sometimes the police can tell you to leave a place. This is called being told to ‘move on’.  You can be told to move on from a place by the police if they have a reason to think you (or someone in your group): 

  • have committed a crime or are about to;
  • are getting in the way of other people or cars;
  • are putting other people in danger; or
  • are likely to behave antisocially and be a nuisance to others.

It is an offence not to follow a direction to move on given by police.

Can police search me?

In most cases, police need a warrant (which is a written order from a judge) before they can enter an area and search you, your car or your house.18 However, the police can search you without a warrant in some situations, for example if you consent, or if they think you have:  

  • something that’s stolen or illegal (like illegal drugs);
  • something which is evidence of a serious crime;
  • in some cases, firearms.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to consent to a search. If you don’t consent, police will need another legal reason to search you. There are also special laws that apply to people who are being searched while they are in police custody (under arrest). You can find out more here. 

If police can legally search you, and you don’t cooperate with the search, they can use reasonable force to search you. Not cooperating with police (for example by trying to stop them doing a search) can also be an offence. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to cooperate during a search, although you can still ask questions such as “can you tell me why you’re searching me?”, and politely tell police that you don’t agree to the search. The police officer must tell you why they want to search you.

The police have taken my things. Can they do this?

If you are under 18, the police can take and keep any alcohol that they think you’ve been drinking in public and also any cigarettes or e-cigarettes they find on you. Police also have powers to confiscate other things, including firearms in some circumstances.

If the police take something of yours that you think is legal for you to have, you can ask the police for it back. If the police do not return it to you, you probably will need to go to court to ask for it back.  

Need more help?

If you are under 25 and you have questions about your rights with police, you can contact us for free and confidential legal advice, here. 

You can also check out this factsheet from the Legal Services Commission SA or call their Free Legal Helpline on 1300 366 424 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 4.30pm).  

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