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Criminal & traffic law

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

Police using force when arresting you

Can the police use force in making an arrest?

Crimes Act 1961, ss 39, 40

When they’re making an arrest, the police can use reasonable force to overcome force used by the person to resist arrest. They can only use the least amount of force necessary in the situation.

The police can also use reasonable force to prevent someone trying to avoid arrest or to escape after arrest.

What can I do if the police use unnecessary force against me?

Crimes Act 1961, s 62

If you believe the police have used inappropriate or excessive force against you, you can:

  • make a criminal complaint to the police – this could result in the police officer concerned being charged with assault or some other crime
  • bring a civil case against the police for compensation (“damages”)
  • complain to the police and ask them to do an internal police investigation (this could result in disciplinary charges being laid against the relevant police officer)
  • complain to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (see: “Complaining about the police”).

If the police use too much force against you, this may mean that the arrest was unreasonable and that your rights have been breached. This applies even if the police are exercising power under a warrant.

The court might decide that any evidence obtained as a consequence of the arrest can’t be used (is “inadmissible”).

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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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