rights-in-criminal-law

What are Your Rights under Criminal Law?

Thanks to TV shows and pop culture, many people believe they understand how the criminal justice system works. Police shows, procedural dramas and legal adaptations tend to create a false sense of familiarity with the criminal justice system in the average person. But while loose cannon cops and lawyers who bend the rules make good television fodder, they have very little in common with the realities of police-work and legal professionalism. If you find yourself caught within the criminal justice system, it is important to remember that you have rights.

Arrest

When being arrested, there are three procedural steps that officers are required to follow. The officer must tell you that you are under arrest and briefly explain why, and you must either voluntarily surrender to the officer or you will be taken into custody through force. Police in Queensland do not have to “read you your rights”, and though you do have the right to remain silent, you are still required to inform the arresting officer of your name and address in order to avoid additional charges. Once arrested, you will escorted by the arresting officer to a police station or watch-house to be processed and await court or given bail.

Warrants

The police are not required to have a warrant in order to arrest you. If they have a reasonable suspicion that you are breaking the law, have broken the law, or are about to break the law, they have the power to arrest you as a reasonable necessity, because of the type or seriousness of the offence, or in order to:

  • stop you from breaking more laws;
  • discover your identity;
  • ensure a court appearance;
  • obtain or retain evidence;
  • prevent the creation or destruction of evidence;
  • prevent witness harassment or interference;
  • protect your safety and the safety of others;
  • prevent your escape; or
  • hold you for questioning.

The threshold for demonstrating reasonable necessity is generally low and the police will likely be allowed to arrest you without a warrant. It is in your best interests to calmly comply, ask for a lawyer as soon as possible, and remain silent except for providing your name and address, until your lawyer arrives.

What Are My Rights?

You have the right to remain silent and wait for the arrival of your lawyer. You cannot be formally interviewed until the police inform you that you have a right to a lawyer, a family member, or friend. Importantly, you must remember that the police are not allowed to coerce a confession out of you by making false promises or threats. As mentioned above, the police must inform you that you are being arrested and explain to you why.

Additionally, you have the right to go to court for a bail application at the earliest reasonable opportunity, and if you are not taken straight to court, you have the right to ask the police for bail. Remember that without an arrest you do have the right to refuse a request to come to the police station, but be careful to handle the situation calmly and respectfully or else risk an actual arrest or additional charges.

Being Arrested for Questioning

When the police have a reasonable suspicion that you have committed an indictable offence, they are able to detain you for a reasonable amount of time in order to conduct an investigation and/or question you about the offence. Police may detain you for up to eight hours, but can only question you for four hours out of the eight. If they want to keep you longer, the police must petition a magistrate or justice of the peace to question you for a further period. During this time period, you still have the right to remain silent after sharing your name and address.

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