What Happens When I Get Arrested by the Police?

02/09/2015 by Michele R.J. Allinotte

Michele’s note: This is a guest post by our associate, Natalie Trottier.

On a cold January morning, Michele was driving into Cornwall with her kids when they spotted the “Paddy Wagon”. The children, being curious, asked Michele why the police used this van. This quickly turned into a conversation about what happens when a person gets arrested by the police.

Being arrested by the police is always a stressful experience most individuals try to avoid. However, if it does happen it may be helpful to have some basic knowledge of the process.

First, it is important to define the term “arrest”. When an individual is being arrested they are being held against their will. You are not being arrested when the police simply stop you and ask you your name and address.

If you are stopped by the police first you should ask yourself if the police officer has the authority to stop you. In Canada, the police can stop you for three reasons:


  1. If they suspect you have committed a crime;
  2. If they see you committing a crime; or
  3. If you are driving.


If you are stopped by the police under any of the above circumstances, they may arrest you if they have grounds to do so. However, for an arrest to be lawful the police should identify themselves, tell you that you are under arrest and give you the reason for the arrest. They must advise you that you have a right to contact a lawyer without delay and  should there  be a warrant for your arrest they should  present you with the warrant.

Can the police stop me while driving?

The police have the power to stop cars at any time to determine if a driver has consumed alcohol or drugs, to see if the car is mechanically fit or, to ask you to produce your driver’s license, vehicle registration or proof of insurance.

If you have been stopped for any of the reasons mentioned above, the police cannot search your vehicle unless they have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that there are illegal drugs or alcohol in your vehicle or that your vehicle contains evidence relating to the commission of a crime.

If the police suspect that you have been drinking alcohol they can request a roadside breath test. They also have the power to request a physical sobriety test.

If the police have concluded they have reasonable grounds to suspect that you have consumed more alcohol in your blood than the legal limit or that your ability to drive a vehicle has been affected by alcohol, they can  escort you to the police station to do a breathalyzer test or blood test. Keep in mind, that it is your right to speak with your lawyer before taking a breath or blood test at the police station.

Can the police search me?

If you have been stopped by the police you may be wondering if they have the power to search you. The general rule is that they can only search you if you are placed under arrest or if you have consented to a search. However, not unlike most rules there are certain exceptions. These exceptions are:


  1. If the police find you in a place where they are searching for drugs, and they have reason to believe that you have drugs;
  2. The police find you in a vehicle where people are transporting or drinking alcohol illegally, and they believe that you have alcohol;
  3. The police believe that you have an illegal weapon or one that was used to commit a crime, and suspect that it might be removed or destroyed in the time it would take to get a search warrant.


What are my rights if I am arrested?

If you have been arrested, chances are that you are worried and have lots of questions. If you are placed under arrest, the police can search you, your clothes and anything you are carrying for evidence and weapons. The police officers can also search your immediate surroundings which may include a vehicle.

If you have been arrested, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does set out your rights as an individual. For instance the police must promptly inform you of the reason for your arrest. If you aren’t sure why you’re being arrested you can ask the police officer why he or she has arrested you.

If you have been arrested, you have a right to remain silent. This means that you do not have to answer any questions the police ask you. In addition, anything that you sign or say to the police could be used against you in court.

Finally, you have a right to speak to a lawyer and the police must advise you of this right as soon as possible. Not only does the police have to tell you that you may speak to a lawyer, they also have to tell you about Legal Aid and your right to free legal services.

If you do wish to speak to a lawyer, the police must give you access to a telephone and they must allow you to make more than one phone call if you cannot reach a lawyer. If you have asked to speak to a lawyer the police must allow you to speak to a lawyer in private and they must stop questioning you until you have had a chance to speak to a lawyer. After you have had a chance to speak to a lawyer they may continue to ask you questions. You do not have to answer the questions.

Next time you find yourself stopped by the police on the side of the road, consider your rights before saying anything to the police.

For more information, contact Cornwall Criminal Law lawyer Natalie Trottier at Allinotte Law Office Professional Corporation at 613-933-7720.


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