How to handle yourself with police

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By St Kilda Legal Service

It’s likely that every person will be approached by a police officer at some point in their lives. It is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are.

Police officers can ask for your name and address if they believe you’ve committed an offence or are about or commit an offence, are driving, or on public transport or licensed premises. They can also request these details if they believe that you could help them investigate a serious offence. They can ask for the name and address of a person who was using your car or motorbike.

Police officers must tell you why they want your details. It is illegal to give a false name or address or provide a fake identification. Be polite at all times and ask questions if you want more information or clarification.

Before police question you they must tell you your rights. You do not have to answer questions (other than your name and address). You can respond to questions with “no comment”. There is no such thing as speaking off the record; whatever you say can be used as evidence.

You have the right to call a lawyer, friend or relative in private before the questioning begins. You can ask for the interviewing police officer’s details (i.e. name/where they work). You can request an interpreter if you do not understand English.

If you’re over 15 years of age police can take your fingerprints if they suspect that you have committed an offence. If you refuse, the police may use reasonable force to take them. Reasonable force means the police may physically restrain you and take your fingerprints.

Police can search your car or house if they have a warrant. Police do not need a warrant to search you for illegal drugs, weapons or stolen goods. You can be searched in a public place if you’re in an area where violent crime happens or police reasonably believe you may have weapons. Police can also search you if they believe you are over 14 years of age and suspect you have a graffiti tool and are on or near public transport property or you are trespassing on someone’s property.
There are three kinds of searches:

  • Frisk/Pat down searches: police officer uses their hands to feel over the outside of your clothes.
  • Strip Searches: police officer removes and searches all of your clothing.
  • Internal body search: searching inside your body. An internal body search is a forensic procedure.

While the search happens stay calm. The police can charge you with an offence if you try to stop an authorised search from happening.

If you feel need legal advice call St Kilda Legal Service on 9534 0777 to make an appointment.

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