It has been two months since Victoria Police used its “special powers” to search members of the public for illegal weapons in the south-eastern suburb of Dandenong. In light of such powers, the aim of this article is to take you through the recent increase in police powers and some of the rights you have at law.
Power to ask for your personal information
The police have a general power to ask for your name and address.
There are a number of reasons that empower police to ask for this information, such as:
- when you are believed to have committed a crime;
- about to break the law;
- stopped over for a breath test;
- you have witnessed a crime; or
- the police believe you are carrying an illegal weapon.
Unless the police have a reason, a person can choose not to give his or her personal details. In any case, the police should tell you why they require your details and once that reason is provided you must comply with the request.
Power to question you
You are either a witness or a suspect at this stage. If you are a witness and refuse to provide information in certain circumstances, you can be charged by the police. Accordingly, your right to silence does not apply in all situations and you should ask to speak with a lawyer if you are unsure about police questioning. You would also want to know whether the police consider you to be a suspect and whether your rights have been read to you at that stage.
Power to search you, without a warrant too!
So you walk into a public place such as a train station or a shop and the police approach you. You are informed that the police will conduct a frisk or pat-down search immediately. The first question that comes to mind is “Can I object?”
In such situations, the answer depends on a variety of factors including whether:
- the public place is located in a ‘designated area’
- the police reasonably suspect that you have illegal drugs, an illegal weapon or an item that can explode or ignite;
- you are in a public place where crime usually happens.
The lesson to be learnt from the above example is that the police now have much broader powers. Such powers can even extend to searches of your vehicle, even when you are not in it.
The effect of the powers on you
In light of the above powers, the need for a warrant has become less significant. While this does not mean you do not have any rights at law, the main message is that you must be a lot more alert and vigilant. Accordingly, if you approached or questioned by the police and you are unsure what to do, ask to speak with a lawyer.
Disclaimer: This article contains general information only and is not intended to be a substitute for obtaining legal advice.