Police arrests 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 if you are arrested by police, and there are special laws that apply if you are under 18. If you aren’t sure if you have been arrested, it’s important to (politely) ask police.  

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When can I be arrested?

The police can arrest you if they have a reason to think: 

  • you are committing a crime; 
  • you are about to commit a crime; 
  • you have already committed a crime; or 
  • you are about to cause harm to someone else or their property.

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

The police should 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 no 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. Resisting arrest by using physical force or running away, or threatening a police officer, are serious crimes.

For this reason, it’s important not to fight, run away or argue if a police officer places you under arrest. You can always politely ask why you are under arrest, and ask for the officer’s name, rank, badge number and police station. It’s a good idea to write down these details and what happened so you can get legal advice or make a complaint if you think you have been treated unfairly. 

Your rights while under arrest

If you are arrested by police, you have the right to make a telephone call to a relative or friend of your choice, in the presence of a police officer, to tell them where you are.

If you have been arrested because police suspect you have committed an offence, then in most cases you have the right to: 

  • have a solicitor, a relative or a friend with you during any interview; 
  • have an interpreter if English is not your native language; 
  • not answer any question (except for some questions you are legally required to answer, like your personal details – see our page on interviews and questions here).

If you are under 18, and you don’t choose someone who is an adult to be with you (or they aren’t available), then in most cases police can’t interview you until there is another adult who can represent your interests.

Police must tell you of your rights as soon as possible after an arrest, and warn you that anything that you say may be used against you in evidence.

How long can police keep me for?

If you are under arrest (and police don’t have a warrant for your arrest), the police can generally keep you for up to 4 hours, unless they get an extension from a magistrate or judge.

Searches while under arrest

Police have powers to search people who are under arrest, but there are laws about how they can do this. For example, police must generally: 

  • avoid offending cultural values or religious beliefs; 
  • avoid unnecessary physical harm, humiliation or embarrassment; 
  • not conduct a search in front of more people than is necessary.

There are special rules that apply to strip searches (also called intimate searches). For example, where someone is under 18, they should in most cases be allowed to have a lawyer, adult relative or friend of their choice with them. An intimate search should also in most cases be done by someone who is the same sex or gender identity as the person being searched.

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person

Police must ask anyone who comes into custody if they are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, and they must tell the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement (ALRM) about any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person who is detained.

An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person in police custody has the right to speak with someone from ALRM by phone or in a visit (or both). ALRM run a 24-hour telephone hotline service, and can provide a wellbeing check and discuss any concerns or needs of a person in custody with police.

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, and you need help or support for a dealing with police, you can call the ALRM on: 

  • (08) 8113 3777 (24 hour service for emergencies) 
  • 1800 643 222 (free-call for people in SA) 

Need more help?

If you are have questions or concerns about dealing with the police, you can: 

  • call the SA Legal Services Commission’s free Legal Help Line on 1300 366 424 
  • if you are under 25, contact us here for free and confidential legal advice 
  • read more about making a complaint about police here. 

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