It is important to know your rights when dealing with the police. Police can search and seize property found on a person, in their vehicle or their premises with and without a warrant in Victoria. Search and seize powers without a warrant can expand for special situations involving drugs and dangerous weapons.
General Police Search and Seize Powers
(a) Searching on a person
Police can search you:
- With your consent: this is called “search by consent”. Police must record your consent down in writing. If this does not happen, you may lodge a complaint.
- In a public place: police may search you in a public space if they reasonably suspect you:
(i) have committed, or are committing, a crime; or
(ii) have a dangerous weapon on your body.
A public space includes in and around public transport areas (e.g. trains, train stations, buses, trams).
Having reasonable suspicion means that the police officer forms the belief on ‘reasonable grounds’. Reasonable grounds includes, but is not limited to:
- Previous criminal offences;
- Suspicious environments (e.g. late at night, high crime areas); or
- Acting in a suspicious behaviour.
(b) Entering and searching premises (including vehicles)
Police can enter and search your premises, including a house and vehicle, if they reasonably suspect you have committed, or are committing, a crime. Police usually need a warrant or your consent before entering.
However, there are exceptions where:
- The crime suspected is a serious indictable offence and the police are entering to arrest someone;
- Police are entering to stop a fight or aggravation;
- Police suspect a breach of an intervention order in family violence situations; or
- Police suspect family violence or threat of family violence.
A serious indictable offence means an offence that is punishable by at least 5 years imprisonment on the first conviction (e.g. drug offences).
Special situations involving drugs and weapons
(a) Search and seizure if you’re suspected of a drug offence
Police have extra powers if you are reasonably suspected of possessing, trafficking or cultivating drugs. These powers include searching:
- On the person;
- On or in your vehicle; or
- On an animal.
A police officer may enter your house (or other premises) under their general powers of entry and search.
(b) Search and seizure in a designated area
Police have extra powers to search in designated public areas within Victoria without a warrant and without reasonable suspicion. If you refuse this search, you commit an offence.
The search may be:
- On the person;
- In your bags and other belongings; and
- On or in your vehicle.
A designated public area is one declared by the Victoria Police and typically includes areas:
- With at least two violent acts or disturbances occurring within the past 12 months;
- Recognised as a trouble spot (e.g. King Street, Melbourne CBD); or
- Where previously held events and demonstrations have turned violent.
These areas are published in the Victorian Government Gazette and last up 12 hours at a time.
Before the search, police must give you a written notice detailing:
- The area as a designated area;
- Their authority to search you and your belongings (including vehicle); and
- That hindering the search is an offence.
What do I do if I’m searched?
(a) During the search
Ask the police officer why he or she is searching you, but don’t hinder or obstruct the search. If the search is within police powers, do not refuse the search.
(b) Request a written record of the search
After the search, request a copy of the written record of your search. Police must keep a written record of the search detailing who conducted the search and what the searching police officer did. Requests made within one year of the search are free.
(c) Lodge a complaint
If the police have treated you unfairly or acted outside of their powers, you should complain as soon as possible to:
- Independent Broad-based Anti-occupation Commission (www.ibac.vic.gov.au)
- Commonwealth Ombudsman (www.ombudsman.gov.au)
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