Police and young people 


Here you will find information about the rights of young people (aged under 17) when dealing with the Police. For general information on the rights of individuals in dealings with the Police, and for making a complaint about the Police, see our Police and your rights page.


Can the Police stop and question me if I’m under 17 years of age?

If you’re aged under 17 years and out in public, the Police can stop you if:

  • you are driving or riding a vehicle
  • they believe you are breaking the law, or have broken the law
  • you are in a pub or other licensed place and they believe you are under age
  • they, or the school attendance officer, think that you should be at school (i.e. you are truant)

In these cases you have to tell the Police your name, address and birth date. If the Police have stopped you because they believe you should be at school, they can also ask you for the name of your school and the reason why you are not at school. If they are not satisfied with your answer they can take you home or to the school.

The Police can also stop you if they believe that you are “at risk” (i.e. your parent or guardian is not with you and the Police believe your mental or physical health is, or is likely to be, impaired). In this situation you are not obliged to give them your personal information.

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What are my rights as a young person being questioned by the Police?

If the Police want to ask you any questions in connection with a possible offence, they must inform you of your rights before asking the questions.

They should tell you that:

  • you don’t have to go with the Police to be questioned, but if you do you can leave at any time (unless you have already been arrested).
  • you aren’t required to give a statement.
  • if you decide to give a statement, you can change your mind at any time. 
  • if you do give a statement, it can be used as evidence against you in court.
  • you’re entitled to have a lawyer with you when the Police are questioning you or taking a statement from you. If you refused a lawyer during your interview with the Police, you can change your mind and ask for one. Anyone can get access to a lawyer for free under the Police Detention Legal Assistance scheme.
  • you have the right to have a nominated adult with you. If you refuse to name someone, or the person you choose isn’t suitable, the Police can choose another adult (not a Police officer). The adult’s role is to make sure that you understand what is happening and that you’re not being disadvantaged. 
  • if you have not already been arrested, you can be arrested without a warrant if you refuse to give your name and address and therefore can’t be served with a summons.

The Police must inform you of your rights if:

  • they are about to question you because they suspect you have committed an offence
  • they are about to question you with the aim of getting you to admit to committing an offence
  • you ask about your rights, during the interview
  • they decide, after questioning you, to charge you (and you are not already under arrest)
  • they arrest you.

The Police must contact your parents or guardians to tell them that you are at the police station. They also have to explain your rights to you in a way that you can understand. If you’re not sure what something they’ve said means ask the Police officer or check with your lawyer or another adult.

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What does it mean to be in police custody?

Being in police custody is not the same as being arrested.

If the Police think you are at risk (eg, they find you drunk and alone in the middle of the night), they can take you into custody. This means they will take you home if this is what you want. If you don’t want to go home, or your parents don’t want you at home, the Police will take you to a Oranga Tamariki youth justice residence. If you can’t or won’t go home and no Oranga Tamariki  place is available, they will take you to the police station.

If the Police took you into custody because you were drunk and at risk of harm, once you have sobered up they have to let you go (unless they arrest you, or a health professional thinks that you can’t look after yourself).

If you are in police custody they can take your photo and prints (eg, finger prints). If they ask you for your name, address and date of birth you have to tell them. But you do not have to answer any other questions.

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Can the Police arrest me if I am under 17 years of age?

The Police can arrest you if they have an arrest warrant.
They can arrest you without a warrant in the following circumstances:

  • They have reasonable grounds to believe that arresting you is necessary to ensure you attend court, to prevent you from committing any further offences or to prevent you from destroying evidence or interfering with witnesses – and if a summons wouldn’t achieve this.
  • They believe you committed a very serious offence and that arresting you is in the public interest, or if the offence is a specific drink driving or immigration offence.
  • You have been released on bail and the Police think that you have breached a condition of bail and that you have breached conditions of that bail at least twice already.

If a police officer arrests you without a warrant, they must write a report within three days of the arrest, explaining why they arrested you without a warrant.

More information about this is on the Community Law Manual.

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What are my rights as a young person who has been arrested?

The Police must contact your parents or guardians to tell them that you have been arrested. They also have to explain your rights to you in a way that you can understand. If you’re not sure what something they’ve said means, ask the Police officer or check with your lawyer or another adult.

You can ask to have an adult with you for support. The Police cannot interview you without an adult support person present. These are in addition to the rights you would have as an adult has who has been arrested (see our Police and your rights page).

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Can the Police charge a child or young person with a criminal offence?

If you’re under 10 years of age you can’t be charged with any criminal offence. If you’re aged 10 or 11 you can only be charged with murder or manslaughter. If you are 12 or 13 you can be brought before the Youth Court in certain situations. Once you are 14 years or older you can be charged with any offence.

If you break the law when you’re under 14 (and the charge is not murder or manslaughter) you’ll be dealt with by Police Youth Aid, a family group conference or the Family Court (also see What is Police Youth Aid diversion?).

If you’re aged 14, 15 or 16 and you break the law you’ll be dealt with by Police Youth Aid, a family group conference or the Youth Court. The aim is to help you face up to your mistakes, be accountable for what you have done, and get on track for a positive future.

If the offence is not serious and you have committed few, or no, previous offences, then the Police might just give you a warning. If they do this, then the Police Youth Aid section will send your parents a letter.

Offending by people aged 17 or over is dealt with in the adult justice system.

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What will happen after I’ve been arrested and charged?

The Police can:

The Police can:
  • release you
  • release you on bail
  • put you in the custody of your parent or guardian
  • place you in the custody of an iwi social service, cultural social service, or someone approved by Oranga Tamariki or the Police. They have to get your agreement to do this.

The Police may place you into Oranga Tamariki custody to ensure you appear at court, to prevent you from committing further offences or to prevent you from destroying evidence or interfering with witnesses. If they decide to place you with Oranga Tamariki, it must be done within 24 hours of your arrest.

The Police may hold you for more than 24 hours if they, and a senior social worker, believe you are likely to run away or be violent, or if they can’t find a suitable Oranga Tamariki placement for you. In this situation they will keep you in a cell at the Police station until it’s time for you to be brought to court (which must be as soon as possible after the arrest) or Oranga Tamariki finds a suitable placement.

More information about what happens if a child or young person breaks the law is on our Youth Justice page.