When can the

police arrest you

When can you be arrested?

A police officer may arrest you if:

  • They suspect on reasonable grounds that you have committed an offence or are about to commit an offence
  • They have a warrant for your arrest
  • They have stopped you for a breach of the peace (threatening violence, or provoking someone else to be violent)
  • They believe on reasonable grounds that you have breached your bail conditions, or
  • They need to serve an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) on you

What do the police have to tell you when they arrest you?

A police officer must always tell you that you are under arrest and explain why you are under arrest. They must also caution you that you do not have to say or do anything, but that if you do, it may be used in evidence against you. You should not answer any questions, apart from giving your name and address, without first speaking to a lawyer.

Can a police officer use force against you?

A police officer can use reasonable force to arrest you. What constitutes reasonable force depends on the circumstances. If you are concerned about how much force a police officer has used to arrest you and your case goes to court, a Judge or Magistrate can rule on whether or not it was reasonable. If you wish to make a complaint about a police officer you can do so by contacting the NSW Police Customer Assistance Unit on 1800 622 571 or by filling in a form on the NSW Police website.

What happens if you resist arrest?

If you actively resist arrest, you can be charged with the offence of resisting police in the execution of their duty (or even assaulting police in the execution of their duty). Even if you believe you have not done anything wrong, the police may still arrest you in the circumstances listed above. The arrest, however, must be lawful and must not involve the use of excessive force.

When can the police search you?

If you are not under arrest, the police can stop and search you if they suspect on reasonable grounds that you are carrying items such as stolen goods, prohibited drugs, dangerous articles or something that is used (or intended to be used) in connection with an offence, for example, implements that could be used to carry out a burglary.

Police are able to use sniffer dogs for “general drug detection” in some places, including:

  • Particular public transport routes
  • In places where alcohol is served
  • At entertainment events, such as sporting events and festivals.

If a dog detects a scent and “indicates” you, this may give police reasonable grounds to suspect you are in possession of a prohibited drug, and to search you. The police can pat you down, look in your pockets or bags, and search your car. They can only strip-search you when they believe it is serious and urgent, and there are strict rules they must follow to ensure your privacy.

The police do not need a warrant to search you in any of these circumstances. When searching you, a police officer must always tell you their name and place of duty, and the reason for the search.

Can police arrest you simply to ask you questions?

The police can ask you to voluntarily accompany them to a station for questioning, but they cannot force you to do so. Police may not arrest you in order to investigate whether you have committed a crime. They must first have reasonable grounds to suspect you have committed an offence and they must intend to commence proceedings against you.

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