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When is it okay for a police officer to search you?

You may have seen on television shows that, when police officers approach a suspect, they may immediately try and search them for evidence of some kind. You may wonder “is this what happens in real life?”

For many people, facing a criminal charge is their first interaction with the Canadian legal system. They may think they understand how the law works based on pop culture, but the truth is that things don’t always appear the correct way in fiction.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence by a police officer, it’s best advised that you consult with an experienced criminal defence lawyer. He or she will be able to help advise you on the process, and inform you on trial dates, sentencing and defence strategies.

If a police officer conducts a search on your person, it’s important to be aware if the search is being conducted within the confines of the law. As outlined on s Steps to Justice page, there are specific criteria for which an officer can search you. You can read the full list on the website, but some important criteria to note is the right to search when there is a reason to believe you are hiding something.

An officer can search you if you have been arrested or detained. But if you have not, and they approach you, it’s possible they may have valid grounds to search you base on certain situations. Generally speaking, an officer can search if you if they have reasonable grounds to believe you are:

  • Holding evidence vital to a case
  • In illegal possession or use of a weapon, drugs or alcohol
  • Posing a threat that could be eliminated by a search

But what constitutes “valid” or “reasonable” grounds for a police officer to conduct a search can be debatable. This is what a criminal defence lawyer will help you assess. The reasonable grounds differ depending on the situation – generally, no two situations are ever alike.

Even if you know someone who has been in a similar situation, it can be beneficial to seek the advice of a legal professional to get a proper legal analysis of your own specific set of circumstances, and what your options are for next steps.

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