What should you do if a police officer wants to search your house?
Recently, a woman made a live broadcast on Facebook showing her denying entry to a team of policemen who had asked to search her condominium apartment.
She believed that they were impostors, but it turned out that they were policemen. They had come in plainclothes, leading to her confusion.
The woman’s actions raised questions about the rights of citizens and what they should do in such circumstances.
Two criminal lawyers spoke to FMT about the do’s and don’ts, in view of increasing enforcement of movement control restrictions.
“First of all, police have the right to check any property – house, car etc – as long as they have reasonable cause or suspicion,” Rosal Azimin Adnan said.
“The power of the police comes under the Police Act and the Criminal Procedure Code, among others, which provide them the right to arrest and investigate.”
On the other hand, a citizen’s fundamental rights are enshrined in Articles 5,9,10, 13 and 149 of the Federal Constitution.
The laws outline the fundamental rights and safeguards for the public, including when facing possible arrest or when finding themselves in a police search.
When a policeman knocks on your door …
When police ask to search a home, the owner should firstly ask them for the reason behind the search.
The owner should also ask the police officers for their names and identification numbers. All policemen carry a blue identification (ID) card, even if they are not in uniform.
All police officers are obliged to give this information when asked.
Rosal said that for most operations, the police would usually be in normal clothing. “They are only in uniform if you get checked at a roadblock, for example. If it’s private premises, they are usually in plainclothes. But all will carry their ID.”
Do they need a search warrant?
Penang police chief Mohd Shuhaily Mohd Zain recently said that police have the right to enter any private premises, without needing a search warrant, if they have the intention to arrest a suspect.
Rosal concurred, saying that the police do not always need a search warrant.
A schedule in the Penal Code provides for a list of criminal offences in which search warrants are not required for police investigations.
Examples of these offences include rioting, taking part in unlawful assemblies, or having illegal weapons. Such offences are widely known as seizable offences.
However, only police officers ranked as Inspector and above are allowed to do this.
Whether or not the police present a search warrant, the house owner has a right to call the district police headquarters to check if the officers are legitimate policemen under their jurisdiction.
What do you do during the search?
After verifying their information and allowing them in, the person should follow the police officers closely during the search, said another lawyer, Baljit Singh Sidhu.
The officer or officers should not be left alone as they search the home.
He said that all doors to cabinets, drawers or rooms must be opened by the owner.
After the search, the owner should make a police report saying the police had conducted the search. “He or she should name the person (or persons) and give the person’s ID number in the report.”
The search should also be recorded on video, if possible.
However, if a police officer says the search cannot be recorded, the person should comply, so as to avoid a confrontation.
Baljit said that the police can ask the house owner to follow them to the police station if they find something incriminating “or if they want to investigate you further, and you would need to comply”.
He said the people have a duty to assist the police in their crime prevention investigations.