When Can Police Search Your Vehicle?

Police can search your vehicle if you give them permission, or they have a warrant, or if they find you in it committing an offence, or if they have arrested you. They can also search your vehicle if they have reasonable grounds to believe that there may be illegal drugs, alcohol or weapons in it. (For example if they smell drugs or alcohol or if they see something illegal in plain view).

When Can Police Search Your Premises or Property Without a Warrant?

Most searches of premises or property require a warrant, except if:

  1. there are exigent circumstances, such as where the police know that someone is critically injured or there is a serious threat to an individual or the public or;
  2. the police have authority to arrest someone who they have reason to believe is on the premises.

When Is A Warrant Needed For Police to Search Premises or Property?

Except in the circumstances discussed above the police are required to go before a judge or justice of the peace to get a warant before searching your premises or property.

The police must give evidence to the judge or justice of the peace to satisfy her that reasonable and probable grounds for the invasion of privacy exist before the search and seizure will be authorized by way of a warrant or court order.

As with other areas of privacy law, the protection of privacy is balanced against the needs of others, so where the individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy is low, the protections will be lower. Where the individuals’ reasonable expectation of privacy is higher, more stringent rules will be applied. An individual’s bodily integrity and the integrity of his or her home are at the highest end of the spectrum.

In order to get a warrant the police have to swear under oath and the judge has to be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that in the place to be searched they will find evidence of an offence; or evidence that will reveal the whereabouts of a person who is believed to have committed an offence; or anything that is intended to be used for committing an offence; or any property related to an offence.

What To Do If the Police Have A Warrant to Search Your Premises or Property

If the police come to your premises or property and show you a warrant, you should check that the address is correct, that the warrant contains a description of the offence that is alleged, and that the warrant is valid for the date and time that the search is being carried out.

If you believe that the warrant permits the search, allow the police to enter and search. Do not resist or physically block them.

Although you have a right to verbally refuse the police entry if you believe the warrant is invalid, the police have a right to force entry after they have made a formal demand that the premises be opened to them on the basis of the warrant. Do not physically block the police. If the warrant is later judged to be lawful, you could be charged with obstruction.

Once the police have entered your premises, they can seize any thing described in the warrant, or any other thing that they have reasonable grounds to believe has been obtained by or used in the commission of an offence. You do not have to answer questions that the police ask you. But remember that you should tell them you do not want to answer questions until you have spoken to a lawyer.