The role of police is to protect the public from crime and harm. They keep the peace, prevent and investigate crime, protect property and enforce the law. If you end up on the wrong side of the law, it can be extremely intimidating to deal with police, particularly if you have been questioned or detained.
Police are equipped with many powers to help them enforce the law and protect the public. Police powers are set out under the legislation, such as:
These powers are designed to allow them to carry out their duty in their protection of you. You also have the power of rights (as well as some responsibilities), that are designed to protect you from having your rights abused by the police.
In Queensland, police powers extend to these abilities (among others):
They may compel a suspect to supply their name and address, if the suspect is thought to have committed an offence and is driving a motor vehicle.
When dealing with the police, your rights extend to:
Being charged with an offence does not mean that you will be found guilty of the offence. Police are humans, just like the rest of us and they sometimes make mistakes. They may need to take action against somebody that they would prefer not to take action against (such as in the case of false claims), or they may do something illegally or act with bias.
There are many defences that may apply in Court in Queensland, such as self-defence, necessity or duress. There are also other reasons that will result in you being found not guilty in Court, such as if the police have charged you with the wrong offence, or you may be able to rely on a recognised defence in court. The police may not hold enough evidence against you, they may have acted illegally or improperly, or there may be a lack of witnesses.
After an offence has been committed, police will collect evidence, interview witnesses and gather intelligence. Cases are often solved quickly and the offender dealt with; however, some cases require ongoing analysis.
Once a person has been charged with an offence, the case is referred to a police prosecutor or a prosecutor from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) for more serious offences. The prosecutor will mount a case against the defendant for the purpose of convincing a court that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
If you are arrested by police, it is a good idea to be polite, not swear or use offensive language and to cooperate to the point that it will not infringe upon your rights. If you resist arrest, which means being non-compliant with police when they are attempting to arrest you, you can be charged with this. Even if you are innocent for the offence you were originally arrested for, you can be charged with resisting arrest, which would be an unfortunate outcome. It is also possible to be charged with resisting arrest if you incite another person to resist if they are being arrested.
It is a serious offence to commit assault against police, and the penalty is more severe than an assault against a person who is not a police officer. This is because an assault against police is not only an assault against a person but also an obstruction of justice.
Not many people are aware of the fact that a police officer does not have to be on duty at the time an assault against police occurs, but the severe penalties are still applicable.
You are able to be arrested by police if you have committed or are committing an offence, have breached bail, have an arrest warrant or have breached a domestic violence order. When you are arrested, the police must tell you why you are under arrest, and ensure you understand that you are under arrest. The arresting officer must usually also give you their name, rank and station of duty. If they do not give you some or all of these details, you can lodge a complaint at a later date.
The police are allowed to use reasonable force – that is, as much force as necessary and no more – to arrest you. Depending upon the offence, your willingness to cooperate and whether or not the police consider you a flight risk, you may be handcuffed. At this time, the police do have the right to search you if they deem it necessary, and they may follow this up with another search at the station.
At the police station, you will be issued with a document outlining your rights – it is a good idea to read this thoroughly. You have the right to contact legal representation prior to any questioning, or any other person that you wish to contact, as long as the police believe that contacting another person will not obstruct justice in any way. The police are only required to wait two hours for your legal representation to attend before they can begin interviewing you.
Remember, you have a right to silence, and you should always exercise that right until you have spoken to your legal representation. There are only a few circumstances in which your right to silence may be waived, and the police will let you know when this occurs. If you take part in an audio or video interview, you will be given a copy of this interview afterwards.
You can generally only be detained for a total of four hours (excluding time-outs) in order to finalise the charging process. If you have been granted bail and you have not had an application for an extended time brought against you by the judicial officer, then you are free to leave after the four-hour period, or as early as practically possible if the police have completed the charging process or questioning, before the four hours is up.