When can the police search me?
Because you have a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches or seizures, there are limited circumstances where the police can lawfully search you. That is, the police can search you when you consent to a search, when they believe that you have illegal substances or weapons on your person, and when you have been lawfully arrested or detained.
Firstly, police can search you if you give them “informed consent” to search you. This means that you understand the possible consequences of the search and you voluntarily allow the police to search you. They can also search you if they have grounds to believe that you have illegal substances on your person. For safety reasons, they can also search you upon lawfully arresting you or detaining you. However, if they are searching you for safety reasons they can only “pat you down” and search you to the extent necessary to determine whether you have any weapons on your person.
If the police are arresting you, they can also lawfully search you for more than safety reasons. In such a circumstance, there must be a reasonable possibility that they will find evidence that is relevant to your arrest. For example, if you are being arrested for impaired driving or a traffic infraction, the police would not be justified in searching the trunk of your car because doing so would not afford them evidence of your impairment.
The law significantly limits situations where the police are actually allowed to perform more invasive searches of your person, like strip searches. Strip searches are extremely intrusive, and can be embarrassing, humiliating, and degrading for the accused, so they are not to be done routinely or as a matter of policy. The police are not permitted to do a strip search unless they have already done a “pat down” search and have reasonable grounds to believe that doing a strip search is necessary to find weapons or evidence directly related to the reason for your arrest. They are also prohibited from doing strip searches away from the police station unless there are “exigent circumstances” in which it is necessary to do one before you are brought to the station. Finally, the police are prohibited from making you strip in front of someone of the opposite sex. When the police are searching you or trying to search you, it is risky to resist. If you resist, you could potentially be charged with obstruction of a peace officer, another criminal offence.
As such, while you do not need to divulge any more information to the police than your basic identification, you should be as compliant as possible. If they are directing you to take actions or if they are doing things that are not legal, one of our criminal defence lawyers will be able to use their errors to build your defence, and to argue that the evidence they illegally collected should be thrown out.
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