What are my rights if I am stopped by a police officer?
It’s very important for a person to understand their rights and obligations when dealing with the police. The law is designed to protect a citizen’s rights but at the same time allow the police to properly investigate matters and it is often a very fine balance.
Police can stop you and ask you questions at any time. However, you don’t necessarily have to answer all their questions.
Police may use whatever you say to decide whether to arrest or charge you. They can use what you say against you in court. You don’t need to be at a police station to be interviewed and there’s no such thing as ‘off the record’.
There are, however, safeguards in place. For example, if a person makes an oral confession to committing an offence which is not voice recorded by the police then the police must then either have the person repeat their confession on tape or have the person sign a statement confirming their confession. A failure to do so may result in the confession being excluded as evidence.
Police have the right to ask for your name and address in many situations, including when they:
- find you committing an offence
- ‘reasonably suspect’ that you have committed an offence
- think you can help them investigate an indictable offence or domestic violence act
- give you an order to stop making noise or being a nuisance
- stop you while you are in control of a vehicle
- trying to enforce another specific law
- where it is reasonable in the circumstances.
Although police can ask you to give your name and address, they must warn you that it’s an offence to refuse to do so.
If you refuse to give your name and address when police have a right to ask for it, and you have no reasonable excuse for refusing, you’ll be committing an offence and could be charged.
Giving a false name or someone else’s name could result in more serious charges.
You’re allowed to ask the police why they want this information. The officers must give you their names, rank and station. If not in uniform, they must show you their identity cards or some other proof of identity.
However, if police suspect that you’ve committed an offence and need to arrest you to establish your identity, they can do so without a warrant. Therefore, if police ask for your details, you should:
- check their identity and ask why they want your details (making a note of what they say)
- state your name and address, as well as age if you’re under 17
- try to record the names of any witnesses to the event
- politely say that you’re unwilling to answer other questions.
Being stopped while driving
Police can ask to see your licence if they pull your car over for a legal reason, such as for a random breath alcohol or drug test, or to enforce transport or drug laws.
If police stop you while driving, they may conduct a roadside alcohol breath test (i.e. random breath test) or drug saliva test, and have you go to a police station for a blood test.
Apart from giving your name and address, and showing your licence, you can refuse to answer other questions.
The police do not have an automatic right to search you and your personal property. They can search you or your belongings only if:
- you agree to the search
- they have a search warrant
- a law specifically allows them to conduct the search. Such powers are limited and apply only in certain circumstances. One common example is if they reasonably suspect that you are in possession of illegal drugs, weapons or stolen property.
Any conversations you have with police can be used against you. Until you’ve obtained proper legal advice, you should tell the police only what the law requires you to tell them. Most criminal lawyers are available 24 hours a day on their mobile phones as they understand that people can get into trouble at any hour of the day.