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Does The Police Have The Right To Stop And Search My Car?

Many at times our rights are being violated either due to the ignorance of the law or we are too afraid of the law enforcers. Nigerians have cried bitterly over the harassment of soldiers, MOLPOL, SARS and others who have forcefully search their cars, laptops, and phones without a search warrant.

AutoReportNG got some images from Rivers of how police are checking every car, while we agree that Rivers is tense right now due to the political war going on in the state and the police are trying to keep everyone safe. We did some digging as to what the law says and what the police are meant to do in this case.

While police generally need a warrant to search you or your property — during a traffic stop, police only need probable cause to legally search your vehicle. Probable cause means police must have some facts or evidence to believe you’re involved in criminal activity.

In other words, an officer’s hunch without evidence of illegal activity is not enough to legally search your car. Before searching, he must observe something real. Common examples of probable cause include the sight or smell of contraband in plain view or plain smell or an admission of guilt for a specific crime. The presentation of any of these facts would allow an officer to perform a search and make an arrest.


Be aware that minor traffic violations (e.g. speeding, broken tail-light, or expired registration) are not considered probable cause.

The Police Act in Section 29, states that a police officer ‘…may detain and search any person whom he reasonably suspects of having in his possession or conveying in any manner anything which he has reason to believe to have been stolen or otherwise unlawfully obtained.’

Therefore, the police have the power to search, however, it is not absolute. There has to be a reasonable suspicion that the person has stolen or unlawfully obtained property in his/her possession. That is the position of the law. The test to decide what is reasonable, is something referred to as the ‘objective test’ i.e. whether a reasonable man would have conducted the search of a person in the circumstances.

Therefore, in determining whether a search carried out in you is an unreasonable one, you would have to look at your circumstances. For instance, did you sufficiently identify if asked to by the police? Did you answer any of their questions satisfactorily? If you did, then it might be argued that there were no reasonable grounds for the search. If the police officer did not have any reasonable grounds for suspicion, then you might be able to sue for unlawful search and harassment. An unlawful search is also a violation of your right to privacy guaranteed under the Nigerian Constitution.

Can The Police Search My Phone, Laptop Or Electronic Device?

The police have a right to search phones and laptops, however, this search can only be performed if a search warrant has been issued. If the police officer does not have a warrant to search your phone or laptop or other electronic devices then any search carried out is an illegal one.

What To Do If You Are Stopped?

We always urge caution in any relation with security officials for your own safety. If you are stopped, you should follow the below steps:

- Always greet policemen and policewomen as “Officer”. For example, you may start off with “Good afternoon, Officer. How’s it going today?” Under no circumstances should you ever talk back, raise your voice, or use a road word with a police officer. Being hostile with police is stupid and dangerous. You can’t win that game.

- When you are stopped, make note of the officers’ names

- Answer all their questions satisfactorily and do not antagonise them

- If upon answering their questions they request a search, tell them that you do not believe that they have reasonable grounds to request a search as you believe you have answered their questions satisfactorily

- If the officer insists, then comply, however, inform them that you will be raising a formal complaint of an unlawful search of you and your property

- If an officer proceeds with search, comply fully.

- After the search is completed, you should either raise a formal complaint by following the process laid out here, or you may look to engage the services of a lawyer to make a formal complaint and potentially instigate a suit and claim compensation for unlawful search and harassment.

We should also note that if you are a female person and you were physically searched, then any search performed on you must only be conducted by a female officer, this is the position of the law, and a physical search on you by a male officer would be unlawful.

Credits:
LawPadi, Flex Your Rights

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