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Police Powers: Stops and Searches

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When can the police search my home?

The police can search your home if any of the following apply:

  • they have a search warrant
  • you understand what they want to do and you give them permission — this is known as "informed consent"
  • they have reasonable grounds to believe that there are illegal drugs, weapons, or evidence of another offence in your home, which might disappear or be destroyed if they took the time to get a search warrant

The police may also be able to search your home if another person with authority in your home has consented to the search. But they cannot seize a home computer that you share with someone else even if that person gives their consent in writing to the police.

Limits on the power to search

There are limits to where and how the police can search, and they cannot destroy property unless they need to. The police can search only for evidence that is listed in their warrant, and they can look only in places where they might find the evidence. So, for example, hey cannot look in your closet for something so big it could not fit there.

However, if the police are searching for evidence that is listed in the warrant and they discover something related to another crime, they can take it and use it as evidence.

The police cannot search your personal computer just because they have a search warrant for your home. They need a search warrant for the computer.

The police do not have the right to arrest you just because they are in your home with a search warrant. They must have reasonable grounds to believe you have committed a crime. But they can detain you if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are connected to a crime. To learn more about your rights if they detain you, see "What are my rights if I am arrested or detained?"

Getting your property back

Usually, if the police take from your home something that was legally in your possession, they must return it to you within 3 months, unless a justice of the peace orders that they can keep it longer. If you are not charged and the police do not return your property within 3 months, contact the police and ask them to return it. If necessary, you can apply to a court to have it returned.