What are your legal rights when the police arrive unannounced at your home and want to search it?
Victorian Police’s right to search you or your property
According to Victoria’s laws, Melbourne or Geelong police can only search you or your premise if:
- you agree (otherwise called ‘search by consent’)
- they have a warrant
- they have arrested you
- you are in a public space that has been declared a ‘designated area’
- they are allowed to by law
Search by consent
If the investigating officer does not have a warrant when they arrive to search your premises, they may ask you if you will let them search you or the property which is called ‘search by consent’.
You can refuse the search, and the police must abide by your refusal. If you agree, the police officer must get your consent in writing.
Why do the Melbourne or Geelong police need a search warrant?
Search warrants provide police with the right to enter a person’s home to investigate criminal matters.
Generally, the police do not have the power to search a person or their premises without a search warrant, unless specific circumstances exist which permit police to conduct a search without a warrant.
Police surveillance to obtain a warrant
Typically, before an arrest or house search, the police have conducted surveillance on the home and its occupants. The information gathered from the surveillance is usually used to satisfy a magistrate or judge that grounds existed to ‘swear out’ a search warrant.
The Victorian police must show you the search warrant when they arrive at your property. If the police do not produce a search warrant, the police must inform you of what reasonable grounds they have to suspect your involvement in a criminal offence to enter your premises.
Melbourne home searches without a warrant
Typically, a police officer must have a search warrant and suspect an offence to search someone’s home or property in Victoria. However, a police officer can, without a search warrant, enter and search a home either with the consent of the occupier, or when the police officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that a person in the house has committed an offence, is committing an offence, or intends to commit an offence.
Typical Melbourne home search process
You hear a knock on the door, and upon opening it, there is a police officer surrounded by other police officers. The investigating police officer produces the search warrant and explains the reason for the search. He asks permission to enter with the other police officers to conduct a search – he may or may not be upfront about what they are searching for. It should be noted that if the police produce a valid warrant to search your home, hindering them while they are executing a search warrant is an offence.
Police officers’ roles in the search
Similar to the movies, there will be various police officers searching your home. It is important to understand what role each of them plays.
- Investigating officer – the lead officer who will explain the warrant to you or speak to you. He or she has oversight of the search process, subsequent arrests and will oversee any interviews conducted back at the police station.
- Video camera operator – every search must be filmed in Melbourne and Geelong. Typically, the camera will only be turned on if police officers find something suspicious; however, you may not know when the camera is on or off so it is best to keep quiet during the entire search—this way nothing you say can be used against you in court later on.
- Evidence officer – an officer who records and catalogues the items seized, where the items location, and the name of the officer who found the item.
- Searching officers – there may be various officers searching different areas of your property or vehicles. It is essential to direct all questions to the Investigating officer rather than the other officers.
Your legal rights during a search of your premises in Melbourne
The Investigating Officer will state your rights, including your ‘right to silence’ which means you do not have to say anything during the search. You will also be asked if you want to speak to a lawyer at the beginning of the search—say YES no matter what time it is in the middle of the night or day. Or, if you haven’t taken the opportunity to call a lawyer and the police find something unlawful, they will stop the search and give you a second opportunity to contact a lawyer—take them up on it and contact the compassionate criminal lawyer team at Gallant Law.
Get legal advice from a Melbourne or Geelong criminal lawyer
Having your home or vehicle searched or a family member arrested after a search can be upsetting and confusing. When the police arrive on your doorstep to conduct a search, cooperate only to the extent you must – make sure the warrant is valid as best as you can, provide access to your property, give them your name and date of birth, then call the experienced and compassionate criminal lawyer team at Gallant Law on our urgent enquiries line 0412 513 915.