Young people and the police

Young people and the police

Laws that apply to adults also apply to people aged between 10 and 17. However, in some circumstances the police must treat young people differently.

This includes if police want to:

  • interview you
  • take your fingerprints
  • take your photo
  • take samples from your body, such as saliva or blood.

Children under 10 years can not be charged with a criminal offence, but might be referred to the Child Protection Service.

Giving your name and address

It is a criminal offence to refuse to give your name and address in certain circumstances, or to give false details to the police (or public transport officers). See Speaking to the police for what these circumstances are.

The police can demand your name and address without giving a reason if you are in a hotel or licensed premises (staff can also ask for your age).

Going to a police station

If police want you to go with them to a police station, you can refuse unless they are arresting you or in special circumstances such as:

  • when you are driving and they want to do a breathalyser or drug test
  • they are investigating a report of family violence
  • they believe you are mentally ill and need to be taken into custody.

Always ask the reason they want you to go with them.

Searches

Police have the right to search you at any time in a public place if they believe you may be carrying illegal drugs, stolen goods or firearms. The police can also search you at school if they suspect you are carrying illegal weapons.

If the police stop you, they must make a record of this. You can ask for a copy of the record at the time or later.

See Getting searched for information about searches that applies to people of all ages.

Alcohol

If you are under 18 the police cannot search you for alcohol but they can take it from you if they see you with it.

Volatile substances

The police can search you if you are under 18 and they suspect you are going to inhale a volatile substance (chroming). It is not a crime to chrome but the police can stop you and take you somewhere safe if they think you will hurt yourself by chroming.

Graffiti prevention

Under laws to prevent graffiti, the police can search you if they think you are over 14 and:

  • they suspect you have a graffiti tool, such as spraypaint, textas, stencils or an implement used for gouging
  • you are in or adjacent to public transport property
  • you are trespassing.

Police can ask you to remove outer clothing (head gear, coat, gloves, shoes) to search clothing under these garments. Before they do this, they must tell you their name, rank and the name of the station where they are based.

If graffiti tools are found police must ask you why you are carrying these tools. If they think that you intend to inhale spray paint, they must proceed under the volatile substances law, above.

Right to phone calls

If the police have arrested you or taken you into custody, before any formal questioning begins they must let you phone a lawyer from a ‘private space’ (somewhere that the police can’t hear you).

The police must also let you phone a friend or relative from a private space, unless it is a driving matter involving drinking or drugs or they believe that during this time:

  • someone else involved in the crime might get away
  • some evidence may be lost or tampered with
  • other people may be in danger.

Police questioning

While you are waiting to speak to your parents or guardian, lawyer, independent person or interpreter, you should refuse to answer any questions after giving your name and address.

If you are under 18 the police must not formally question you unless your parents or guardian are there – unless you don’t want them there. If your parents or guardian are not available, the police must arrange for an independent person to be with you during questioning. You must be given the chance to talk privately to your parents, guardian or the independent person before the questioning.

The independent person is there to make sure you and the police understand each other and that you understand your rights. They don’t give legal advice. Either you or the police can suggest who will be the independent person. If an independent person is not with you during questioning, the court may decide that the information can’t be used as evidence.

When you are being questioned you have a right to remain silent, and to answer ‘no comment’ to all the questions except those about your name and address. You can’t get in trouble for saying ‘no comment’ and it should not affect whether you get bail or work against you in court. Talk to a lawyer about this before the questioning starts.

Note: The police don’t have to wait for a parent, guardian or independent person to arrive before questioning you when someone else involved in the crime might get away or if waiting may cause danger to other people.

Fingerprinting

There are different rules about fingerprinting, depending on your age:

  • under 10: the police are not allowed to fingerprint you
  • 10 to 14: you and your parents or guardian must agree before you can have your fingerprints taken. You don’t have to agree to this. If you or your parents or guardians refuse fingerprinting, the police have to get permission from the Children’s Court
  • 15 to 17: your parents, guardian or an independent person must be with you when the police ask to take your fingerprints. They must also be there if your fingerprints are taken
  • 17 years and older: in most situations you have to let the police take your fingerprints if they believe you have committed an offence. This is not the case in some minor offences like jaywalking and littering

If you refuse to give your fingerprints, the police can use ‘reasonable’ force to get them. Reasonable force means the police may physically restrain you and take your fingerprints. If you are 16 or younger, this must be audio- or video-taped.

Your fingerprints must be destroyed within six months if you are not charged or are found not guilty. They must also be destroyed if you don’t re-offend before turning 26, unless you were charged with a serious offence like murder, assault or rape. You can check with the police to make sure that it has been done.

Forensic procedures and body samples

A forensic procedure is a physical examination. Some forensic procedures involve taking ‘intimate’ body samples, like blood, pubic hair, saliva, mouth or dental impressions, or anal, genital or breast swabs.

A qualified doctor or dentist must carry out these procedures. The police must tell you beforehand that you don’t have to answer any questions asked by the doctor or dentist.

The police can take ‘non-intimate’ body samples from you, like hair, fingernail or toenail scrapings and some external body swabs. Depending on your age, different rules apply if the police want to get body samples:

  • under 10: police can’t take a body sample under any circumstances
  • 10 to 17: police can only take a body sample if they get a court order; a parent, guardian or independent person must be with you if a body sample is taken

You should always get legal advice before agreeing to give any blood or a body sample.

Photos

The police may want to take your photo so they can identify you when you are being:

  • kept in a police cell
  • released from custody on bail with conditions that you report to a local police station.

If you are between 10 and 17 your parents or guardian must consent (or the court must order it) before you can be photographed. If you are under 10 you cannot be photographed by the police.

The police may want to photograph you without your permission, like when you are sitting in the waiting room or in a cell. You do not have to show a tattoo or part of your body. You have the right to say you don’t want your photo taken. You can also complain to a senior officer at the station.

Identification parades

Talk to a lawyer before you agree to be in an identification parade. You have the right to refuse and cannot be forced to take part.

Terrorism laws

There are terrorism laws that give the police powers to arrest and detain people, including people under 18. These laws are complicated. Get legal advice.

Complaints

If the police have done something you think is wrong, you can make a complaint. If you want to complain do it quickly. Get legal advice, especially if you have been charged with an offence. If you are injured, go to a doctor immediately.

Get help

Find out how you can get help dealing with police.