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Police Line-ups & Searches

Do I have to participate in a police line-up?

No. A police ‘line-up’ (also called an ‘identification parade’) is where several people stand in a line and a witness is asked to point out the suspect. You should always obtain legal advice before agreeing to a line-up.

Where you do not agree, police may ask the witness to identify a suspect from several photos, including a photo of you.

When can police search my body, car or bag?

Police can search you, your car, bag or belongings if:

  • you agree;
  • you have been arrested;
  • police reasonably suspect that you have something stolen or unlawfully obtained, or something used or about to be used in a crime;
  • police reasonably suspect that there are illegal drugs on you or in your car;
  • police reasonably suspect that you, your bag or school locker have a knife or other weapon;
  • police suspect that you are involved in terrorist-related activities;
  • police have a search warrant for the building you are in, and they reasonably suspect that you have something named in the warrant on you;
  • you are detained because you are drunk in public.

Police must tell you why they intend to search you. If they don’t, you should ask. You may also ask for the police officer’s name, badge number and police station. If police give you that information and you still refuse to be searched, they may arrest you and use force to search you. You may also be fined or charged with refusing a search and ordered to appear in Court.

During a search, police can take anything they believe is evidence of a crime. If you feel that the search was ‘unreasonable’, you should lodge a formal complaint.
A search may be ‘unreasonable’ if:

  • police did not have reasonable grounds to search you; or
  • police refused to give their details when asked; or
  • police did not follow the rules for the particular type of search (see below).


What types of searches can police do?

There are three main types of body searches and different rules apply to each type of search:

  1. normal search;
  2. strip search; and
  3. internal body cavity search.


(a) Normal Search

The most common type of search is where police:

  • get you to empty out your pockets and bag; and
  • search your bags and possessions; and
  • do a frisk or a pat-down search; where police quickly run their hands over all parts of your body and ask you to run your hands through your hair; and/or
  • use a metal detector to search you and your possessions.

If you are under 18, it is your right to have a friend or family member nearby while you are being searched. Even if you are over 18, you should ask to have someone present. This will reduce the chance of improper conduct by police (eg excessive force) and give you a witness to back-up any later complaint by you.

(b) Strip search

Strip searches are a serious invasion of your privacy. However, the law allows police to strip search you (ie to make you remove most or all of your clothes) if:

  • you have been arrested; and
  • police reasonably suspect that you possess dangerous or prohibited items, such as weapons or drugs.

Police must not strip search you where there is no real reason to suspect you of hiding such things, or where they just want to humiliate or degrade you. Strip searches must not be conducted in public, and females can only be strip searched by other females. Police must not touch your body during a strip search.

(c) Internal body cavity search

This is the most intrusive type of search, involving a search of your rectum and/or vagina. It can only be done where there is reason to believe that you have hidden prohibited items (usually drugs) inside a body cavity. Such searches must be approved by a police sergeant or a more senior officer, and can only be performed by a doctor.

When can police enter and search my premises?

Police can only enter your home or business premises:

  • if the occupier (the person who lives or works there) consents (agrees);
  • to prevent domestic violence, a ‘breach of the peace’ (eg fighting or violence) or some other offence;
  • to arrest someone; or
  • to execute a search warrant.
  • Police can only search your premises, however, if:
  • the occupier consents;
  • they enter to arrest someone. In such a case, they can only search the arrested person and their belongings, not the whole premises;
  • they suspect ‘terrorist-related’ activities; or
  • they have a ‘search warrant’.

To obtain a search warrant, police must persuade a Magistrate or justice of the peace that they reasonably suspect that there is evidence of a crime (eg stolen goods, weapons, drugs etc) at the premises.
The search warrant can only be used once, during the daytime (unless the warrant says otherwise) and before the expiry date (which is stated on the ‘occupier’s notice’; see below). Police must give you a receipt for anything they take form the premises or your person.

What is an ‘Occupier’s notice’

Before carrying out a search, police must hand the occupier a written notice, called an ‘Occupier’s Notice’, which states:

  • the address of the premises;
  • what the police are looking for;
  • what the warrant allows police to do (eg the parts of the premises they can search; whether they can search at night etc); and
  • the warrant’s expiry date.

How can a solicitor help me?

If you are arrested or called for a police interview, you should contact a lawyer who is experienced with the criminal law and who can:

  • advise you of your rights;
  • explain any charges against you;
  • explain your alternatives;
  • make a bail application for you in Court (if you are refused bail by police); and
  • represent you at your Court hearing.

At Brazel Moore Lawyers we have Lawyers experienced in criminal law who can help you deal with any of these types of matters.

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