While most of us have no doubt seen police brandishing search warrants to enter someone’s home in cop shows, it’s doubtful many of us are actually aware of what our rights are in this situation.
In Queensland, police are not generally permitted to enter your premises. If they attempt to do so, you are entitled to refuse them entry at the front door and clearly state that you have not invited them in and do not give consent for the officers to enter or remain on your property. There are certain circumstances where police can enter your premises without warrant, detailed in the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (‘PPR Act’), including if they reasonably suspect that evidence of an indictable offence (or a limited number of other offences) is on your property, and that the evidence may be concealed or destroyed unless the place is immediately entered and searched. They can also enter to serve a legal document, in an emergency, to arrest someone, or to reach a crime scene.
But in all other circumstances, police require a search warrant applied for through a Justice of the Peace, Magistrates Court, or Supreme Court. A warrant sets out their search powers and so it’s important to understand what your rights are if your premises are the subject of the warrant.
You’ve been presented with a search warrant – what do you do next?
If police arrive on your doorstep and say they have a search warrant, it’s important at the outset to maintain a firm but co-operative attitude. You are entitled to ask them to produce the document for your perusal. You should challenge any incorrect details on the warrant. The police are obliged to give you a statement of their powers under the warrant. Most warrants will include powers to:
- Detain anyone present;
- remove wall panels, floor panels and ceiling panels to search for evidence;
- take photographs of items that may be seized for evidence
- dig up your yard;
- open locked areas such as safes, filing cabinets, or cupboards, and;
- search anyone on the premises.
It should be noted that the police cannot damage a building’s structure unless the warrant was issued by the Supreme Court and this act is clearly stated as a term of the warrant. Under the PPR Act, police may enter premises to the extent permitted by the warrant and use all powers necessary to execute it, including reasonable force.
Despite the powers given to police in the warrant, if it’s the case that consent to enter would not otherwise be given, you should make this clear to the officers and, if possible, record the interaction. This is important in case your legal representative later decides you have grounds to challenge the validity of the warrant.
Answering police questions
Be careful in responding to any questions asked by police during the execution of a search warrant. Ideally you should speak with an experienced legal representative before responding to police questions.
Be aware that in conducting a search of premises under the terms of a warrant, police will usually record their interactions with you (either openly or covertly) and therefore you need to be wary about how you respond to any questioning as these answers may become evidence in a later legal proceeding against you or others.
Attending police officers must give you a receipt for any items seized from your property that they believe to be evidence supporting a criminal charge. Be aware that if any of your property is damaged during a search, you won’t necessarily be compensated afterwards, depending on the terms of the warrant.
This property may include your mobile phone, which will obviously contain a large amount of personal information. Under the PPR Act, it is an offence to refuse to give police the password/PIN code to your mobile device, other storage device and the apps stored on them, if they have a search warrant. Be sure to check the warrant to ensure police have the power to search and seize personal devices, otherwise you should not consent to police looking at your mobile phone.
Being confronted at your front door by police officers brandishing a search warrant can be an intimidating and frightening experience. By following some of the suggestions above you can protect, as best as possible, your rights and entitlements in this serious situation.
As soon as possible, however, you should speak with an experienced criminal law professional to assess your situation, particularly if you did not provide consent for police to enter., or if you are unsure about whether the powers in the warrant were complied with, or if you had personal property seized as evidence.
Hannay Lawyers has years of experience in these particular situations and has won numerous industry awards for our ability to represent people in criminal matters. If you have any queries or concerns about being presented with a search warrant, contact us today on (07) 3184 2323.