Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Talking to the police

It’s around midnight. You are walking home from your friend’s house and you see some police officers coming down the street towards you.  They walk up to you and start talking to you. You feel pretty nervous and fear that you are going to get in trouble.

This post will discuss the rights you have in similar police scenarios. It is important to remember that the police have to act within the law when they are doing their jobs. This means that there are limits on when they can search you and when you are required to answer questions.

Can the police ask me my name, address and age or for a piece of identification when I am walking down the street?

A police officer can ask you these things, but you have the right to refuse to answer. Unless they have reason to believe you are involved in a particular crime, the police have no right to forcibly stop you.
BUT: If a police officer does ask you questions, it is sometimes smart to answer them politely.  Then ask the police officer why he or she wants to talk with you. If the police believe you have committed an offence, they will sometimes let you off with a warning, but if you do not give your name, address, and age, they might feel that they must detain or arrest you to get this information. You should ask the police officer if you are under arrest!

Can the police ask me other questions?
Yes, but you do not have to answer them. Youth under the age of 18 have the right to a parent or trusted adult to be present during interrogation.

When can I be searched?
If the police have reason to believe you are involved in a particular crime, the police can detain you for a search.  BUT unless they say you are under arrest, all they can do is a protective, pat-down search.
The police can search you if you are arrested.

When can the police use force against me?
The police can use as much force as is required to enforce the law, to stop someone who is being arrested from escaping (if there is no less violent way to stop them), and to prevent a serious crime.  They CANNOT use force to make you answer questions or give a statement.

What do I do if I think the police have treated me badly?
There are a few things you can do if this happens to you.

You can:
·                     Talk to a lawyer immediately;
·                     Go to your doctor if you have any cuts and bruises and get copies of related medical records;
·                     Take pictures of any visible injuries;
·                     Notice whether there are any witnesses and try to obtain their name and telephone number so they can be called, if needed;
·                     Obtain and document the police officer's name and badge number. If you cannot get this information, take note of the police car number/ license plate, and the time of day;
·                     Once you are arrested,  get someone you know and trust to be with you as soon as possible;
·                     As soon as you are released by the police, write out a description of what happened, and then sign and date your report;

Then talk to a lawyer about what options you have to make a complaint.

For more information check out JFYC' s pamphlets on your rights:

If you are a youth in Ontario and have legal questions about this issue, please contact a lawyer at JFCY at 416-920-1633, or toll-free at 1-866-999-5329.  

Thanks to Krista Nerland, a PLE Team Member for writing this post. Krista is a law student at U of T. The post was edited by JFCY Volunteer, Sarah Mehta Alexander LLM Candidate. Legal information was reviewed by JFCY.

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