You’re driving along Newcastle Link Road when you notice blue and red flashing lights behind you. A siren sounds.
You check your speedometer, you’re not speeding. You’re not driving erratically. You’re confused, what’s this all about?
Being pulled over by the police can be a very daunting experience, which is why it is vital to be aware of your rights and responsibilities.
When can police pull you over?
You can be pulled over if police reasonably suspect that you are committing an offence, or if they are going to perform a roadside breath test.
A police officer also has the power to give reasonable directions for the safe and efficient regulation of traffic.
Failing or refusing to pull over when directed constitutes an offence under section 39 of LEPRA.
Do police officers have to identify themselves?
If you have been pulled over by an unmarked police car and you are unsure whether the person is a genuine police officer you should remain in your car with your car doors locked.
You have the right to ask the driver to show you their identification. You can then call 000 to verify the officer’s identity.
Do I have to identify myself?
Drivers are obligated to identify themselves if requested to do so by a police officer.
If you are asked to identify yourself, you should inform the police officer of your name and address.
You are also required to present your licence to the police so they can verify the details you have provided.
Do I have to answer any questions?
If you’ve ever been pulled over by police, you’ll probably be familiar with the nature of the questions they tend to ask drivers.
Where are you going tonight? They might ask. Have you had anything to drink?
Contrary to what you might think, you are not under any obligation to answer questions put to you by police (apart from identifying yourself, as discussed above).
It is always best to remain polite and cooperative. If there is no harm in answering a few basic questions, then it is usually best to do so.
However, it is your right to decline to answer any questions, especially if the questions turn ominous.
For example, a typical red flag is if an officer asks have you got anything in the car I should know about?
You should always contact a lawyer if you are being questioned by police.
Can police search my car?
Generally, police are required to obtain a warrant before they can search a vehicle.
However, there is an exception to this rule. The exception is if the police suspect on reasonable grounds that you are in possession of any of the following:
- A prohibited plant or a prohibited drug
- Anything stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained
- Anything used or intended to be used in connection with the commission of a relevant offence
- A dangerous article that has been used in (or in connection with) the commission of a relevant offence
If there are reasonable grounds for the police to suspect you are in possession of any of the above, they have the power to stop and search your vehicle.
If police demand to search your vehicle it is best to comply, however, you should never tell police that you are consenting to the search.
What is reasonable suspicion?
The leading NSW authority on reasonable suspicion is R v Rondo.
In this case, the Court of Criminal Appeal ruled that the search of a vehicle (during which cannabis was found) was illegal because the officers involved didn’t possess a ‘reasonable suspicion’ at the time the stop and search was conducted.
The evidence gained from the illegal search was subsequently excluded as it was ruled to have been obtained illegally.
According to R v Rondo, a reasonable suspicion involves more than a possibility, but less than a reasonable belief.
The suspicion must have a factual basis, it cannot be based on hearsay or speculation. The belief must be formulated at the time of stopping and searching the person, it cannot be formed during the search or after the search.
If the police did not have reasonable suspicion at the time they searched your vehicle, then they have acted illegally. If your charge has been based on an illegal search, a lawyer may be able to get your charges dropped.
Hamilton Janke Lawyers has extensive experience representing clients in traffic matters. If you need advice or representation for a traffic matter, contact Hamilton Janke Lawyers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 4038 1666.