When can police search?
The police can search premises, vehicles and vessels, and seize property where:
- the person consents
- for the purpose of detecting weapons at licensed premises or certain public places, see Powers to search for weapons
- they have a search warrant (issued under an Act such as the Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) s 67; Controlled Substances Act 1984 (SA) ss 50, 52; Criminal Assets Confiscation Act 2005 (SA) ss 172-177; Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 318; Crimes Act 1914 (Cth); Criminal Investigation (Extraterritorial Offences) Act 1984 (SA);
- they have reasonable cause to suspect that stolen goods or evidence of the commission of an offence is present [ Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) ss 68-72].
What proof can police provide of their authority to search?
Some police carry general search warrants issued for six months at a time [Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) s 67].
Use of reasonable force
If it is a lawful search and seizure, the police may use reasonable force and it is an offence to hinder them.
The police may also search a person who is under arrest and seize any item reasonably suspected of being unlawfully obtained or any item relating to a crime. Reasonable force may be used by the police to effect a lawful seizure [Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) s 81(1)].
Power to enter premises
If released on a bail condition that the person must reside at a certain address, the police (or an authorised person) can enter that address to ascertain if the person is complying with the bail condition [Bail Act 1985 (SA) s 11].
Powers of customs officers
Customs officers have extensive powers to search any ship, boat or aircraft in any port or airport. With a warrant they may search any premises or any container and seize any goods they reasonably believe are forfeitable goods.
Can police keep property seized during a search?
Ordinarily, the police cannot keep property without an owner's consent, unless obtained as a result of an arrest, under a warrant, or if the property is material evidence needed to prove a crime. If property is seized and the person is later found not guilty, the property is returned. If, however, the person is found guilty, the property is either forfeited to the Crown (for example, a knife used to stab somebody) or, if it was stolen from another person, it is returned to its rightful owner.
Can police exceed their powers?
Where the police enter premises or seize goods unlawfully, it is a civil wrong. A court order can be obtained for the return of property and/or for payment of compensation. It is possible a court will allow property obtained unlawfully to be used as evidence to prove an alleged offence. The court must consider in the circumstances whether it is fair to the accused person or whether for public policy reasons the evidence should be admitted. While ordinary citizens can arrest in some circumstances only the police have the power to search and seize.
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.