Police powers and my rights with the Police

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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. It’s a good idea to take notes of what’s happened either with a pen and paper or in your phone so you can better remember these events later.

Move along powers

Sometimes the police can ask you to leave a place and not come back for up to 24 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 are:

  • Causing anxiety to someone entering or leaving a place
  • Blocking people from entering or leaving a shop or building;
  • Threatening and being offensive to people; or
  • Disrupting the order of an event or gathering

Whenever the police tell you to move on they have to tell you their reasons for doing so.

If you don’t ‘move on’ after police tell you to, you could be fined up to $4400!

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’ve been, or might be, involved in domestic violence;
  • You are carrying illegal drugs;
  • You are somewhere that is restricted to adults and look under 18.

It is against the law to give the police a fake name or address. You could be fined $114.

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

The police may only interview you if you are under arrest or suspected of having committed a crime.  If the police ask you to go to the station with them, you should ask if you’re under arrest or suspected of committing a crime.  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. If you are under 17, the police cannot interview you without a parent, carer or adult friend there with you.

The police can’t keep you for questioning for more than 8 hours. During that time, you can’t be interviewed for more than 4 hours. The police may be able to keep you longer, but they’ll need a court order to do so.

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:

  • They think you have a weapon, knife or other dangerous item;
  • They think you are carrying illegal drugs or something used to take dangerous drugs;
  • They think you are carrying stolen property;
  • They think you have something that can be used as evidence for a crime; or
  • They think you have something that may be used to break into houses or cars.
  • They think you have something that you’ll use to hurt yourself or others.

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.

For all kinds of searches, if an immediate search is not necessary, the police must have someone of the same sex do the search. The police must also try to not embarrass you by only searching your clothing in public and conducting any longer searches out of public view. They also can only keep you as long as they need to do the search.

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 police officer can pat down  over the outside of your clothes. The police may also check your outer clothes, pockets and anything you are carrying (for example, your bag).

Strip searches

The police may require you to remove all your clothes and search you. Police can only strip search you if they reasonably think you are carrying an illegal weapon, knife or drug, stolen property or evidence of a serious crime.

A police officer must tell you why you have to take your clothes off for a search. They should let you keep some of your clothes on if possible and can’t touch private areas of your body like your anus or genitals. The police must finish the search as quickly as possible for you to dress as soon as they are finished.

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:

  • You intend to use it to hurt yourself or others; 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?

If you’re under 17, the police can arrest you if they think that it’s a necessary thing to do to:

  • Stop you committing any crime or continuing to commit any crime
  • Stop you destroying or changing your evidence
  • Stop you committing a serious crime
    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, after 8 hours the 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’re over 25, please contact Legal Aid Queensland on 1300 65 11 88.

If you are Indigenous

If you are Indigenous then it is important you let the police know this. The police have certain guidelines they must follow when interacting with Indigenous people.  This includes having to call the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) if you are arrested and haven’t organised your own lawyer. The police must call the ATSILS after you give them your identification but before they question you.

ATSILS also gives general legal advice and support. You can also contact the ATSILS yourself on the details below:

If you have any questions or problems with the law you can call the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (Qld)

There is also a 24/7 Hotline you can call on 1800 012 255.

You can also find their nearest office here.

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