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Police searches without a warrant

In some situations, the police can search you, your vehicle or your home without a warrant.

You don’t have to consent to a police search, but in some situations the police can search without your consent. 

The police can take your property as evidence, but there are rules about when your property should be returned. If it’s not returned when you think it should be, you can make a complaint. Get legal advice.

Consenting to a police search

You don’t have to consent to a police search. If the police ask you if you consent to a search, you can say ‘no’. In some situations, the police may have the power to search you, your home or your vehicle without your consent.

It’s usually best to say ‘no’ to a search, but you should obey the directions of the police otherwise you may be charged with obstructing police. If you say ‘no’, then the police will have to decide whether they have the power to search without a warrant or whether they will have to go and get a warrant.

Searching private property

The police can enter and search your home without a warrant to:

  • prevent domestic violence
  • investigate traffic offences (eg to take a breath test for alcohol)
  • catch someone who has escaped from prison or from being arrested
  • search for evidence if they reasonably suspect there is evidence that may otherwise be hidden or destroyed
  • arrest someone
  • reach a crime scene.

A police officer can enter your home without a warrant to shut down or prevent an out-of-control event or to identify a person who is committing an offence in relation to an out-of-control event.

Searching vehicles

A police officer can stop, detain and search a vehicle and its occupants if they reasonably suspect that there is something in the vehicle, including (but not limited to):

  • a weapon
  • a dangerous drug
  • stolen property
  • tools to break into houses or cars
  • something that you plan to use to hurt yourself or somebody else
  • evidence that someone has committed an indictable offence (and this evidence may be hidden or destroyed).

A police officer 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.

A police officer can also stop your vehicle in relation to an out-of-control event.

Searching a person

A police officer can stop and search you if they reasonably suspect that you may have:

  • a weapon
  • a dangerous drug
  • stolen property
  • tools to break into houses or cars
  • something that you plan to use to hurt yourself or somebody else
  • evidence that someone has committed an indictable offence (and this evidence may be hidden or destroyed).

A police officer can also stop and search you if they reasonably suspect you are a participant in a criminal organisation.

The police must follow certain rules when they search you, including:

  • respecting your dignity
  • ensuring any personal search only causes minimal embarrassment
  • limiting any public search to a frisk search, if possible
  • conducting any more thorough search away from public view, if possible
  • having a police officer of the same sex carry out the search, unless an immediate search is required.

Property taken by police

The police can take your property as evidence during a search. They can also take items or take photos of anything they suspect is evidence of an offence having been committed.

If your property is taken, the police must give you a receipt for those items as soon as possible.  They should return your property when it’s no longer needed as evidence and it’s lawful to return it (eg they won’t return illegal drugs taken as evidence). They can’t keep your property for more than 30 days, unless they get a court order.

Where possible, the police should try and reduce the need to keep your property (eg by taking photos of the property for evidence instead).

The police may also keep your property if it’s inappropriate to return it. For example, if the property is of minimal value, such as carpet fibres.  If your property isn’t returned when you think it should be, you can make a complaint. Get legal advice.

Do I need legal advice?

You may need legal advice if you:

  • had property taken by the police during a search (and it hasn’t been returned when you think it should have been)
  • have been charged with an offence and have to go court.

How to get legal advice legal advice

We may give legal advice on police searches without a warrant. We can’t provide you with a lawyer to attend a police interview with you. 

The following organisations may also be able to give legal advice.

Community legal centres may give free preliminary legal information and advice on some criminal law matters. Most don’t provide legal representation. Contact them to find out if they can help.

Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice and representation.

Important:

If you’re charged with an offence, you should ask police prosecutions for a copy of your Queensland Police form 9 (QP9) — this is a written summary of the police version of why you were charged and what happened. You should get your QP9 before getting legal advice. You can get your QP9 from the police prosecutor on your first court date (the duty lawyer may be able to help you). If you can’t collect it on your first court date you’ll need to apply to police prosecutions for a copy. You’ll need to make a written request and show photo ID.

Who else can help?

These organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.

Queensland Police Service Headquarters investigates complaints about police misconduct and breaches of discipline. The internal complaints process is monitored by the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Crime and Corruption Commission investigates complaints about official misconduct, even where the original complaint has been made to Queensland Police. The organisation monitors police internal complaints, but doesn’t directly handle complaints about police misconduct directly.

Queensland Courts provides information about the:

  • Supreme Court
  • Court of Appeal
  • District Court
  • Magistrates Court
  • Coroners Court
  • Childrens Court of Queensland
  • Land Court.
Related links and information
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