I have heard of vehicles carrying hunters being stopped and searched by Police on long weekends. Can they do this?
I have heard of this as well, and it is a great concern for many reasons, not the least of which because it is yet another one of those situations where the civil liberties of shooters are being violated.
Aside from the civil liberties issue, this type of search can cause considerable inconvenience to the individual and, while I have not seen Police engage in this sort of behavior myself, I have a teenage memory of a particular Victorian fruit fly inspector making my father unload the family vehicle on the Victorian border, after he flippantly responded to a question about the presence of any fruit in the vehicle with the response ‘only a pack of fruit gums’!
Police have no general power of ‘stop and search’ unless they:
I. Have a warrant
II. Have arrested you, and
III. The search is incidental to the arrest, or
IV. They are allowed by law.
Police do not need a warrant if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are in possession of illegal drugs, explosives, firearms or weapons. ‘Reasonable suspicion’ involves less than a belief and more than a possibility. Therefore it requires some factual basis. That you are carrying firearms and knives that you are lawfully allowed to carry on a hunting trip would in no way be enough to ground a ’reasonable suspicion’.
What the officer would need is reasonable grounds to believe that the vehicle has been involved in the commission of an indictable offence and the search may provide evidence of the commission of the offence.
A search can be carried out with the consent of the person, and this consent is often tacitly given as a result of a bluff by Police officers. If a Police officer tries to get you to permit the conduct an improper search, advise the officer in clear terms that you do not prepared to consent to a search. Also make a note of the officer’s badge number for possible later reference.
If you have companions with you, make sure that they hear you clearly say that you do not consent to a search.
Note that as a separate issue, the officer is well within their rights to ask you to produce your firearms for inspection (see S59 of the NSW Firearms Act 1996). While ensuring that firearms are secure and out of sight, it is a good idea to find a spot in a vehicle in order to store them, where they can be recovered with some ease. Otherwise you may find yourself unpacking the vehicle in order to make them available!
One issue that can be a nuisance in a position like this is that one tends to pack firearms so that they are well hidden and protected within the load, and if asked to produce the firearm this can in itself trigger the need to unpack the load.
Note that S120 of the Victorian Firearms Act 1996 adds the words produce the firearms at a ‘reasonable time’ and at a ‘reasonably convenient place’, when dealing with Police in NSW. Reasonableness can be implied in all other states.
When dealing with Police, remain polite at all times. After indicating that you do not consent to a search, if a Police officer persists with the search, I do not recommend physical conflict, instead indicate again that you do not consent, and advise that you shall take the matter further by lodging a complaint with the Regional Command after the event.
Avoid getting into conflict with the officer you are dealing with. Your complaint shall be dealt with at the relevant time well above his pay grade. Getting into further conflict with the officer concerned can only lead to an escalation of the matter and the possibility of an arrest or worse.
PLEASE NOTE- this has been prepared as general information only, it does not constitute legal advice. Nor does reading it give rise to a legal professional relationship between the reader and the writer.
If you have any comments, or suggestions for further articles, I would love to hear from you.
Phone: 02 6299 9690