Police and powers to search 



When can the Police search me?

Every search carried out by the Police must be lawful.
The Police may search you:

  • if you give them permission (you have to be at least 14 years old to give permission for a search),
  • if they have a search warrant (a warrant is a court document giving the Police a legal right to do something), or

If the Police are searching you they can also search anything you are wearing or carrying, or that is in your immediate control, such as your vehicle.

Back to top

Do the Police have the power to search me without a warrant?

The Police can search you or your belongings without a warrant if you have been arrested or taken into Police custody, or you are present when the Police are performing some types of search of your vehicle or home.

They also do not need a warrant to search you or your belongings if they have reasonable grounds to believe that:

  • you have evidence relating to a serious offence (an offence which is punishable by 14 years or more imprisonment), or
  • that you have illegal drugs or an ingredient of illegal drugs, and the Police suspect that a drug offence has, is, or will be, committed with that substance. 

The Police can also search you or your belongings without a warrant if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that:

  • you are unlawfully in possession of an offensive weapon (e.g. knives, firearms) or disabling substances (e.g. a drug used to render someone unconscious), or 
  • you have firearms when you shouldn’t - for example if you are breaching the Arms Act 1983, or have a physical or mental condition which stops you from being in proper control of firearms, or there is a protection order or police safety order against you.

Back to top

When can the Police enter my home?

The Police can enter your property:

  • by implied license – i.e. they can go onto your section and knock on your door, but this does not give the Police permission to enter your home
  • with your consent – but you can remove your consent at any time and ask the Police to leave. If you ask them to leave they have to, unless they have another legal reason to stay
  • if they have a warrant

Back to top

When can the Police get a warrant to search my home?

The Police can apply for a search warrant to search your home or a place (such as a vehicle) if: 

  • they have reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence punishable by imprisonment has been, is being, or will be committed, and 
  • they have reason to believe that there is evidence relating to this offence on your property.

A judge must be satisfied that the Police have enough information to support their belief before they will issue a search warrant.

When carrying out the search the Police may only take items that are specified in the warrant (unless other items are in plain view that they have a power to seize - for example if they find drugs while searching for stolen goods). The search can be carried out at any time of day or night that is reasonable in the circumstances, whether you are there or not.

The Police officer carrying out the search must have the warrant with them and must show it to you if you ask to see it.

Back to top

Do the Police have the power to enter and search my home or vehicle without a warrant?

A number of laws, including the Search and Surveillance Act 2012, give Police the power to enter and search a place, a vehicle or other thing without a warrant. This can include entering your home.

Situations in which the Police can do this include:

  • In an emergency - if they have reasonable grounds to suspect there’s a risk to the life or safety of a person, or if they suspect an offence is being committed that is likely to cause injury to a person or serious damage to property;  
  • To secure evidence relating to a serious offence (an offence punishable by a sentence of 14 years or more in prison) ie the Police believe a serious offence is being or is about to be committed and that evidence may be destroyed or damaged if they wait to get a warrant;
  • Someone is ‘unlawfully at large’ (i.e. has escaped from prison or from Police custody or there is an arrest warrant for them) and the Police believe they are in your home or vehicle;
  • To avoid losing an offender or evidence of an offence ie the Police believe that someone suspected of committing an offence is in your house or vehicle, and that they need to enter immediately to prevent the person from escaping or destroying evidence;
  • The Police have reason to suspect that someone in your house has firearms when they shouldn’t (e.g. they are breaching the Arms Act 1983, they have a physical or mental condition which stops them from being in proper control of them, or there is a  protection order or police safety order against them);
  • Drugs - if they have reasonable grounds for believing your property contains certain illegal drugs, and a drug offence is taking place or about to take place and it's not practical to get a warrant.
  • Emergency or urgent situations to do with national security - the Police can be authorised by the Director of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service to act without a warrant to intercept or seize a communication, document, or thing that relates to terrorist activity.

Back to top

When can the Police stop and search my car?

The Police can stop vehicles, in accordance with the road rules (in the Land Transport Act), and  ask you for your full name, full address, date of birth, and other identifying information.

The Police also have the power to stop and search your vehicle with or without a warrant based on the same kinds of reasons as for searching your home.

While the search is carried out you have to remain stopped. The Police officers must identify themselves, tell you which law allows them to do the search and the reason for the search (unless it is not practical to do this).

The Police may arrest you if you don’t stop or remain stopped when required.

Back to top

Who else can search me or my property?

A number of other Government agencies may also search your belongings, vehicle or home if they have reason to believe you are not complying with certain laws.
 
For example:

  • A Customs officer does not need a warrant to search you if they have reasonable cause to suspect you have hidden on you illegal drugs, prohibited goods or goods for which you have not paid duty (or evidence of these things). A Police officer can do this too.  
  • A fishery officer does not need a warrant to search your vehicle, belongings or home if they have reasonable grounds to believe you are hiding illegally caught fish or other sea life.  
  • A dog control officer who has good cause to suspect that an offence is being committed against the Dog Control Act 1996 or a bylaw under the Act may come onto your property to inspect the conditions in which your dog is kept (but to enter your house they need a warrant and to be accompanied by a Police officer). 
  • An Immigration officer can enter and search your property to serve a deportation notice or carry out a deportation order if they have reasonable grounds to believe the person to be deported is in your home.

Back to top

What are my rights when the Police are searching me or my property with my consent?

The Police have to have a reason for asking you to agree to a search, for example to stop a crime being committed, to investigate whether a crime has been committed, to protect life or property, or to prevent injury or harm.

If the Police ask you whether they can conduct a search without a warrant, they have to explain why they want to do the search, and that you can say no to the search. 

If you have given your consent, you can withdraw your consent at any time. If you do then the Police have to stop the search - unless they have found something which gives them the right to continue e.g. illegal drugs.

Back to top

What are my rights when the Police are searching me or my property using a search warrant?

If the Police have a search warrant, they have to show it to you if you ask to see it.  The warrant will state:

  • the period of time for which the warrant is valid 
  • which place is to be searched e.g. an address 
  • which things (or people) are to be searched for 
  • the offence which the Police claim has been committed or will be committed

A number of laws give the Police the right to search you, your property or a place, without your permission. They may or may not require a search warrant, depending on the situation (see the other questions and answers on this page).

Back to top

What are my rights when the Police are searching me or my property without needing a search warrant?

If the Police are searching you using their statutory search powers (i.e. without needing a warrant), they must advise you that:

  • you have the right to remain silent, 
  • anything you say can be recorded and used as evidence against you in court, 
  • you have the right to talk to a lawyer in private, and 
  • you can get free legal advice under the Police Detention Scheme.

They must also:

  • identify themselves and, if they are not in Police uniform, show you some identification to prove who they are; 
  • tell you why they are searching you and under which statutory power (i.e. which Act,) 
  • tell you your rights under the Bill of Rights 
  • if carrying out a search of your person, do so in a manner which allows you some degree of privacy and dignity (while still achieving the purpose of the search).

Read more about your rights when encountering the Police on our Police and your rights page.

Back to top

What can I do if I feel I have been wrongly or unreasonably searched?

If you were subjected to a Police search or surveillance and think it was illegal or unreasonable, you can make a complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

Under the Bill of Rights Act, if you believe you were subject to unreasonable search or surveillance by a Government agency, you can apply to the courts to make a claim for compensation from the Government agency for the cost of damage caused during the search. This process would involve engaging a lawyer, so there would be legal costs involved (but you may be entitled to legal aid).

If a search or surveillance is found to be illegal or unreasonable then the court may decide that any items seized during the search are not allowed to be used as evidence in court. 

More information about making a complaint about the Police is on our Police and your rights page.