Activist Rights

Being Searched

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Generally, the police can only search you if:

  • you agree, or
  • you’re under arrest, or
  • if they have a warrant.

The police can search you, your possessions and your car without consent or a warrant if:

  • you are in a public place and
  • they believe you are carrying illegal drugs, volatile substances, weapons, graffiti implements, or firearms.

“Weapons” can include anything that:

  • has been modified to be used as a weapon; or
  • that you intend to use as a weapon. 

 

Reasonable suspicion of weapons

Police can’t legally stop and search you on a whim or because they don’t like you – although this often occurs.

If you are not in a designated area, police must have a “reasonable suspicion” or evidence that you have a weapon

If you are in a “designated area” police don’t need to have a reasonable suspicion that you have a weapon to search you.

If you are in an area where there is a lot of violent crime, this is enough for the police to have a “reasonable suspicion”.

If the police reasonably suspect you are carrying a weapon and you refuse to produce it and they find a weapon on you, you could be charged and fined.

 

Types of searches

If you are in custody or under arrest you can be searched for things that could be used as evidence for the offence you have been arrested for.

Police may conduct a

  • ”pat-down search” of the outside of your clothes and ask you to empty your pockets.
  • a “strip search” where you remove your clothing. Police cannot touch you. This must be done in private.
  • an “internal search” of your body. Only a doctor of the same gender can do this search. If you don’t agree to the search, the police must get a court order.

 

Gender

Police should make reasonable efforts to get an office of the same gender to search you. In other words, cis- or trans women, should be searched by women officers.

This does not always occur.

The unfortunate reality is that men officers often strip search women suspects as a form of harassment and intimidation.

This can be a traumatic and stressful experience. If this happens to you, talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. Rach out to your support networks for help. 

 

Refusing to be searched

Where possible, verbally refuse to be searched, but do not physically resist. Physically resisting may result in you getting injured. 

If police search you anyway, closely monitor them. Try to have as many witnesses as possible to follow and observe each police officer (there will usually be several). Use cameras and tape recorders, if you have them.

 

If police take your things

Check every item police attempt to take away. Ask witnesses to watch police so that police don’t plant or falsely “find” anything.

Insist on a detailed receipt for anything that is taken – this can be cross-referenced with the report to the magistrate. Do not countersign this receipt if it is not accurate or not fully detailed.

If property is taken from you during an arrest or at a demonstration, have a lawyer write a letter to police, demanding return of the property.

Raise the matter before a magistrate, if you are charged. Put on record as soon as possible what was taken, where it was taken and by whom. This helps any legal follow-up that may be necessary.

 

Searches as an intimidation tactic

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR Article 17) protects against arbitrary and unlawful interference with privacy.

Many searches are arguably random (and therefore arbitrary), aimed at the general population rather than specific individuals suspected of criminal offences.

Police sometimes use arbitrary searches, or the threat of searches, to intimidate activists and scare people away from joining (or staying at) a protest.

For more detailed information on searches please read these following pages:

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