Personal Searches in Victoria
Updated on Dec 13, 2022 • 5 min read • 494 views • Copy Link
Personal Searches in Victoria
Police powers to conduct personal searches in Victoria arise through the common law, the Control of Weapons Act 1990 and the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. This article deals with personal searches in Victoria.
General rules for personal searches in Victoria
Police have the power to search a person or their property in Victoria only if:
- the person agrees to the search
- the police have a warrant
- the police have reason to believe that the person has a concealed weapon
- the person has been arrested
- the person is in a declared ‘designated area’
- there is some other reason specified in the law.
If police wish to search a person in Victoria, the person is entitled to ask the police of the reason for the search and police must inform them.
Personal searches in Victoria without a warrant
Police can only conduct personal searches without a warrant in Victoria if a person is in a public place and the police reasonably suspect:
- the person has illegal drugs
- the person has dangerous items in their possession, such as guns (including imitation guns), knives, knuckle-dusters, nunchakus, other weapons, things that may explode or catch fire
- they are in an area where a lot of violent crime happens
- they have tools for graffiti like spray paint, textas, or gouging tools. Police can only search a person for graffiti tools if they are aged 14 or older and are on or near public transport property or trespassing on someone else’s property.
- they are in a designated place. An area can be declared ‘designated’ if there have been two or more events of violence or disorder there in the last year, it is a regular trouble spot, or there have been events or demonstrations that have become violent. The police are usually required to publish the declaration of an area as designated in a local newspaper. If it has occurred at short notice, though, there is no requirement for them to do so.
Searches in a designated area
Before searching a person in a designated area, the police officer must give the person a search notice.
This notice will state that:
- the area is a designated area
- the person or their motor vehicle are in the designated area
- the police have the power to search them
- it is an offence to hinder or prevent the police from searching them.
Searches on private property
In most cases, a police officer will need a warrant to come onto private property and conduct a search of the property or any people on the property. An officer may conduct property and personal searches in Victoria without a warrant when:
- the person lets them in
- the police need to stop a ‘breach of the peace’, such as a fight
- the police believe that someone will or has committed a serious offence and they need to enter to arrest that person
- someone on the property has breached an intervention order or a family violence safety notice
- someone has defied a police direction relating to family violence matters
- the police believe someone has assaulted or threatened to assault a family member
- the police are pursuing a person who has escaped from prison or custody
- the police have a warrant to arrest someone on the property.
Types of personal searches in Victoria
There are a number of options for police when conducting personal searches in Victoria.
Pat-down search: for this search, the police officer will run their hands or ‘pat’ over the outside of the person’s clothes.
The police can do a pat down search:
- in public or on private property
- have the person empty their pockets or remove their jacket or jumper
- ask them to produce anything that might amount to a weapon
- use a metal detector to search them for a weapon.
Strip search: this is when the police remove and search all of a person’s clothing. These searches must be conducted privately so they are usually undertaken in a windowless room at a police station. When police conduct full personal searches in Victoria, they must ensure the person has someone with them (unless it is urgent or serious circumstances make it impractical) if the person:
- is under 18
- has a cognitive disability or a mental illness.
Internal body search: this kind of search is invasive and is considered a forensic procedure. It must be carried out by a doctor who is of the same sex as the person searched. A person does not have to agree to this kind of search. If the person does not consent to the search, the police may not conduct the search unless they get an order from the court.
The officer who performs a search must make a written record of the search and give the person a receipt for anything they take. The person can request for a copy of the search record at any time.
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