Police powers and my rights

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

If you come into contact with the police, it’s a good idea to make sure you stay calm and respectful. Being aggressive or violent with police will probably make things worse even if you have done nothing wrong. You can get into trouble just for behaving badly with the police.

For example, if you swear at or even around the police, or if you try to dodge police while they are trying to arrest you, you could be charged for doing these things.

If you feel like you’re being treated unfairly by them, there are ways to fix this later on by getting legal help or making a complaint. It’s a good idea to take notes of what’s happened in your phone so you make a complaint later.

Move along powers

Sometimes the police can ask you to leave a place and not come back for 4 or more hours.  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:

  • 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 anti-socially and be a nuisance to others.

If you don’t ‘move on’ after police tell you to, you could be fined up to $260!

Talking to the police

Sometimes you have to give your name and address like if:

  • the police think you’ve broken, or are breaking, the law;
  • you’re driving a car or riding a motorbike;
  • you are carrying illegal drugs;
  • the police have stopped you for a breath test when you’re driving; or
  • you are at a place which serves alcohol or you have bought alcohol using a fake ID.

It is against the law to give the police a fake name or address. You could be fined up to $1,400!

Besides from giving the police your name and address in the situations above, you do not need to say anything else.  The officer must tell you that you don’t need to answer their questions, but that anything you do or say can be used later as evidence (proof that you did something) in court.

If you think the police don’t have a good reason to ask for your details, or to search you, it is a good idea to ask for their name, rank, and place of duty. The police, by law, have to tell you this information. You should write this down so you don’t forget.

You can also politely ask them questions such as “Can you tell me why you need my name and address?”

Police interviews

You can’t be forced to attend a police interview unless you are under arrest.  If the police ask you to go to the station with them, you should ask if you’re under arrest.  If you aren’t, you don’t have to go.

Before the police interview you, they have to tell you that you can call a friend or family member  and a lawyer. Also, you will normally be allowed to have a parent or carer with you.

There isn’t a set amount of time the police can keep you to ask you questions but they can’t keep you for any longer than needed to do this.

You also have the right to remain silent. This means you don’t have to say anything in an interview except your name and address.

Are the police allowed to search me?

If the police don’t have a warrant (a warrant is special permission from a court), they can still search you if:

  • you’re taken into custody for being a danger as you’re drinking, are drunk or have an open bottle of alcohol in public;
  • you’re taken into custody and they think you might have a weapon or dangerous item or something that can be used as evidence for a crime;
  • they think you’re carrying something used to graffiti;
  • they think you’re trying to sell something stolen or illegal; or
  • they think you’re carrying something poisonous.

If the police have a warrant, they can stop and search you, your car or your house.

How will I be searched?

There are two main types of searches – frisk and strip searches.

It’s a good idea to cooperate with a search and you can ask questions such as “Can you tell me why you’re searching me?” If you think the police have behaved inappropriately, you can make a complaint afterwards rather than stand there and argue with them.

Frisk searches

A frisk search is when a police officer runs their hands over the outside of your clothing. The police can do one of these searches if they think you have drugs on you, if they have a warrant or you are in a specific area that they are monitoring.

Strip searches

A police officer can ask you to remove all or some of your clothes but they can’t search private areas of your body like your anus or vagina. Strip searches have to be carried out by a person of the same sex as you if possible.

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

If the police think you’re under 18, they can take and keep any alcohol that they think you’ve been drinking in public and also any cigarettes they find on you.

A police officer can also take anything that belongs to you if they think:

  • it’s a weapon or something that can cause harm;
  • it’s poison; or
  • it can be used as evidence to prove someone broke the law.

If the police take something of yours that you think is not illegal 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 ask for it back if you go to court.

If the police have taken your stuff and you’re not sure what to do, please contact us here.

When can I be arrested?

The police can arrest you if they think:

  • you’re committing a crime;
  • you’ve already committed a crime; or
  • you’re about to cause harm to someone else or their property.

But if you’re under 18, the police can only arrest you if:

  • they need to stop you continuing to break the law or doing it again;
  • they need to stop you hiding or destroying evidence; or
  • it’s unlikely that you will show up to court if they don’t arrest you.

The police can also arrest you if they have a warrant (a warrant is special permission from a court).

The police have to always tell you why you have been arrested. If they don’t, it’s a good idea to ask.

Can the police use force to arrest me?

A police officer can use as much force as they need to arrest you or stop you escaping, but nothing more. This means that if you cooperate, the police can’t use force, but the more you resist arrest the more force police can use.

If you think the police have behaved inappropriately, it’s best to go along with it and make a complaint later.

How long can police keep me for?

If you are arrested, the police can keep you for a reasonable amount of time to ask you questions about a crime and/or to take you to see a judge.If you are not under arrest, police cannot keep you and you are free to go.

Further help

If you are under 25 and have questions about police powers, you can get help here.

If you are over 25, please contact Legal Aid Tasmania on 1300 366 611.

If you are Indigenous

If you are an Indigenous person then you should let the police know this. If you have any questions or problems with the law you can call the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Inc on the following numbers:

  • Hobart Office: phone: (03) 6234 0700
  • Launceston Office: phone: (03) 6332 3800
  • Burnie Office: phone (03) 6431 3289

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