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Criminal & traffic law

Being arrested or held (detained) by the police: Their powers and your rights

When the police can make an arrest

When can the police arrest someone?

Crimes Act 1961, s 315 Bail Act 2000, s 37

The police can arrest you if:

  • they find you committing an offence punishable by a prison term (or they’ve got good reason to suspect this), or
  • they find you “disturbing the peace” (or they’ve got good reason to suspect this), or
  • it’s a situation where they’ve got a specific legal power to arrest you (see below for examples), or
  • they have a warrant for your arrest issued by a court – these can be issued for a range of reasons, including if you’ve breached a bail condition, or if you didn’t turn up at court when you were supposed to.

Bill of Rights Act 1990

Note: Most arrests happen without a warrant. Some statutes that create particular offences may restrict police powers to arrest without a warrant for those offences. A failure by the police to consider their discretion to arrest is unlawful and arbitrary.

Specific powers to arrest or hold you

These are some of the powers the police have under specific Acts to arrest a person without a warrant:

Summary Offences Act 1981, ss 39(1), 39(2)

  • Minor offences in the Summary Offences Act – A police officer can arrest you if they’ve got good reason to suspect you’ve committed an offence against the Summary Offences Act. This Act deals with a range of less serious crimes like common assault, tagging, disorderly behaviour, and drinking in public (some of these are covered in the chapter Common crimes”).

Family Violence Act 2018, s 113

Policing Act 2008, s 36

  • Drunk in a public place or when trespassing – If the police find you drunk in a public place, or drunk while trespassing on private property, they can take you into police custody. They have to release you once you’ve sobered up, and can’t hold you for more than 12 hours.

Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992, s 109

  • Mental illness – The police can take you into custody if you’re in a public place and they’ve got reasonable grounds to believe you have a mental disorder. They can take you to a police station, hospital, or other appropriate place, and arrange for a doctor to examine you as soon as practical (see: “Mental health”).

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Police powers

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

YouthLaw Aotearoa

YouthLaw provides free legal advice for young people throughout New Zealand. Their website provides great information for young people about the law.

Website: www.youthlaw.co.nz
Email: nzyouthlaw@gmail.com
Phone: 0800 UTHLAW (0800 884 529)

New Zealand Law Society

The Law Society has helpful information on your rights when dealing with the police.

Website: www.lawsociety.org.nz/for-the-public/common-legal-issues/you-and-the-police

Independent Police Conduct Authority

The Independent Police Conduct Authority website has information about how the Authority receives and investigates complaints about the Police.

Website: www.ipca.govt.nz
Email: info@ipca.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 503 728

To make a complaint online: complaints.ipca.govt.nz/195

Police Detention Legal Assistance (PDLA)

Under the PDLA scheme, you can talk to a lawyer for free if you’ve been arrested. The service is provided for free, 24/7.

Email: legalaidprovider@justice.govt.nz
Phone: 04 918 8800

For more information: www.justice.govt.nz/about/lawyers-and-service-providers/legal-aid-lawyers/pdla

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