Can Police Search My Car?

By 22 September 2020 January 5th, 2021 General News

We all recognise that our police force play an essential role in maintaining law and order in our community. For most people, the police will be the first phone call they make if they believe their personal security or property is breached or threatened.

But there are also limits on police powers, necessary to ensure that citizens are not subject to arbitrary or wrongful searches and seizure of personal property. In Queensland, these limits are primarily set out in the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2002 (‘PPR Act’). While no-one expects you’ll be familiar with the fine detail of this piece of legislation, it’s worthwhile for everyone to be aware of their rights and responsibilities if for some reason you are subject to a police search.

This article will take a closer look at the situation where police wish to search your vehicle. What should you do in this situation? What happens if the police don’t have a search warrant? What does it mean if they do?

If a police officer asks to search your vehicle it’s best to say “no” as if you consent to the search, then the police are no longer subject to the restrictions imposed by the PPR Act. In all other respects (being asked your name and address, for example), you should comply with police directions lest you risk being charged with obstructing police. By refusing to consent to the search, the onus is then on the police to decide whether they have the power to search your vehicle with or without a search warrant.

If you find yourself in this situation you should, as soon as possible, contact legal professionals such as Hannay Lawyers with experience and specialty in this area of the law. We can help you respond to the police in the appropriate way. Meanwhile, here are some things you should know…

In what circumstances can police search your vehicle?

Police have the power to stop and detain a vehicle, as well as its occupants, in order to conduct a search without a warrant under sections 31 and 32 of the PPR Act and ss 31 to 35 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld). In order to do so, the police officer must reasonably suspect that the vehicle may contain:

  • A weapon or explosive that a person may not lawfully possess;
  • an implement that could be used for housebreaking, stealing a vehicle or administeing a dangerous drug;
  • tainted property;
  • evidence that a serious (i.e. indictable) offence has been committed;
  • something the person intends to use to harm themselves or someone else;
  • an unlawful dangerous drug.

Police can also stop, detain and search a vehicle:

  • To arrest someone in the vehicle;
  • if they reasonably suspect the vehicle is being used unlawfully;
  • if they reasonably suspect that the vehicle is being used by or is in the possession of a participant in a criminal organisation;
  • if it’s not practical to search the vehicle where it’s been stopped, the police can take it somewhere else to complete the search;
  • in relation to an out-of-control event (where 12 or more people are gathered together at a place, and three or more people associated with the event engage in out-of-control conduct at or near the event).

Police must also conduct a ‘lawful’ search. This means they may only use ‘reasonably necessary force’ which is not likely to cause grievous bodily harm or death in order to make the search, unless the situation is considered ‘critical’ (i.e. an emergency). Where a person obstructs a lawful search, police must provide a warning to the individual that it is an offence to do so and give the person a reasonable opportunity to stop obstructing the search.

What should you do if police have a warrant?

A warrant is an official document issued by a Supreme Court judge, a magistrate or even a Justice of the Peace that provides police (or someone else) with the power to:

  • Arrest someone;
  • search you, your vehicle, or your home;
  • take and keep your things found in a search;
  • put you in jail.

If police execute a warrant upon you to search your vehicle, you should attempt to get legal advice as soon as practicably possible. In any event at the time police present the warrant, read it and check that your name and address are accurately recorded on the document. If any details are incorrect, point them out to police. It’s best not to argue with or obstruct the police because, as we’ve mentioned, you may be charged with additional offences. You should also refrain from answering any questions put to you by the police during the search with a warrant until you’ve had a chance to speak to a legal representative.

How we can help

We are a multi-award winning criminal law practice with offices in Brisbane CBD and Southport, Gold Coast. We are specialists when it comes to Queensland’s criminal justice system, with extensive knowledge of the applicable laws and years of practical experience appearing in courts for clients who may have been the subject of a police search, with or without a warrant.

If you are the subject of a search or have any questions about any of the information raised in this article, call our Gold Coast criminal lawyers today on 1800 431 567 for a free initial consultation and practical, prompt advice on what steps you should take.