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Vehicle Searches Without Warrant

Vehicle searches without a warrant are regulated by section 36 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002, which states that a police officer may, without a warrant, stop, search and detain a vehicle, if the officer “suspects on reasonable grounds” that:

  1. The vehicle contains, or a person in the vehicle possesses or controls, anything stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained
  2. The vehicle is being, was or may have been used in connection with an offence
  3. The vehicle contains anything used or intended for use in connection with an offence
  4. The vehicle is in a public place or school and contains a dangerous article that is being, was or may have been used in connection with an offence
  5. The vehicle contains, or a person in the vehicle possesses or controls, a prohibited drug or prohibited plant, or
  6. Circumstances exist in or near a public place or school that are likely to give rise to a serious risk to public safety and stopping, searching or detaining the vehicle may lessen that risk.

A ‘dangerous article’ is defined as:

  1. A firearm, firearm barrel or firearm ammunition
  2. A prohibited weapon
  3. A spear gun
  4. An article or device other than a firearm that is capable of discharging:

(a) Any irritant in liquid, powder, gas or chemical form or any dense smoke, or

(b) Any substance capable of causing bodily harm

  1. A fuse for an explosive or detonator, or
  2. A detonator.

‘Prohibited drugs’ are those listed in the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985, and include cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine and heroin.

A ‘public place’ is a place or part of a premises that is open to, or used by the public, whether or not for payment, and whether or not only open only to a limited class of persons, this includes privately owned places that are open to the public.

An officer can also search a vehicle in the absence of a reasonable suspicion if the custodian provides informed consent for the vehicle search to occur.

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