Youth at the Police Station

What happens at the police station?

The police can ask you to go to the police station with them if they want to question you about a crime.  Unless you have been arrested, you do not have to go.  If you choose to go and you are not under arrest, you can leave at any time.

  • The police will tell you why you are under arrest and for what offence.  They must also explain your right to talk to a lawyer (called right to counsel) and help you contact a lawyer.
  • A lawyer will help protect your rights and ensure that you are being treated fairly.  The lawyer will look out for your best interests at all times and help you understand criminal justice process.
  • The police will call your parent(s)/guardian and explain why you are at the police station.
  • You can refuse to talk to the police until you have had a chance to talk to a lawyer.  If after talking with a lawyer, there is a change in circumstances that significantly alters your choices you can ask to talk with the lawyer again to get more advice.
  • You should have a lawyer, parent or adult friend with you when you give a statement (a statement is when you give the police your version of the events).  You can give a written or verbal statement.
  • If you do not want to have a lawyer, you can sign a form which explains that you do not want a lawyer.  You should not make this decision without talking to a lawyer.

Depending on the crime committed, the police may decide to do any of the following:

  • Take no further action
  • Give a verbal warning
  • Refer you to a community program or agency
  • Give a formal caution –a letter that warns you to stay out of trouble
  • Send you to a Restorative Justice Program 
  • Charge you with an offence.  If you are charged with an offence you will be given an ‘appearance notice ’or a ‘summary offence information’.  Depending on the offence, the police may choose to keep you in custody until you can be brought before a judge.

The notice will tell you when you have to be in court. You must obey the instructions given to you or you could be charged with another offence.

If you are in trouble with the law, talk to a lawyer.

Right to a lawyer

You have the right to have a lawyer. Use it! The police will help you contact a lawyer and give you time to talk with the lawyer privately. The lawyer will tell you what you need to do.

How do I find a lawyer?

Nova Scotia Legal Aid is available 24 hours a day. The police will give you the Legal Aid phone number, or a list of lawyers and their telephone numbers. You can ask your parents, or an adult friend to get you a lawyer. You can also look in the yellow pages of the telephone book under the heading ‘lawyers’.  Look for a lawyer who does criminal law.

Can the police photograph me and take my fingerprints?

Yes, the police can take your fingerprints and photograph depending on the type of offence you are charge with.  The police will give you a notice explaining where you need to go to be fingerprinted and photographed.  You are breaking the law if you do not show up to get this done and you could be charged with another offence.

If the charges against you are dropped or you are found not guilty the information will be accessible in your youth record for 2 months.  After this you can ask the police to remove your photograph and fingerprints from the police files.

Can the police search me?

Yes. If you are arrested, you can be handcuffed and searched. 
In Canada everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure.  If you have not been arrested, the police should only search you if:

  • They have a reasonable belief that you are carrying a weapon or illegal drugs
  • You are under 19 and the police reasonably believe that you have liquor in your possession
  • You agree to be searched.

If you do not agree to a search, calmly tell the police. Silence could be seen as an OK to be searched.

When can I leave the police station?

This will depend on the reason that you were brought to the police station in the first place.  If this is your first offence, and it was non-violent, you will likely not have to stay at the police station.
If you have been charged with assault, the police may allow you to leave with specific conditions.  This is called an “undertaking to release”.  You must follow these conditions or you could be arrested again.
You may be kept (detained) in custody until your trial if:

  • you have been charged with a serious offence or you have a history that indicates a pattern of being in trouble with the law (such as outstanding criminal charges or findings of guilt under the YCJA);  and
  • the judge thinks that detention is necessary to ensure your attendance in court, to protect the public or, in exceptional circumstances, to maintain public confidence in the justice system; and
  • there are no conditions of release that could be imposed on you that would address the judge’s concern about your attendance in court, the protection of the public, or the public’s confidence in the justice system.

What can I do if I feel I was not treated properly at the police station?

The first thing you should do is talk to a lawyer.  A lawyer will help you decide whether you should make a formal complaint, lay charges or sue the police department for damages.
Write down what happened.  Write down the name, badge number, and patrol car number of the police officers that were involved.  Ask witnesses for their names and contact information. If you have been hurt, go to the hospital immediately. Ask the doctor to send a report to your family doctor. Take photographs of any injuries.

If you feel that you were discriminated against because of your race, colour, religion, ethnicity, or gender, you can contact the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. They can tell you how to lay a human rights complaint.

If you want to lay a complaint about the police you should call the Nova Scotia Police Commission 902-424-3246 or RCMP complaints at 902-426-8630.

Where Can I get more Information?

Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia

www.facebook.com/LegalSeagull  twitter.com/LegalInfoNS

LISNS Legal Information Line and lawyer Referral Service
(902) 455-3135           Toll Free in NS: 1-800-665-9779


Youth Criminal Justice Explained

Youth Ombudsman
Toll Free: 1-888-839-6884


Nova Scotia Legal Aid Youth and Duty Counsel
(902) 420-7800

Victim Services
(902) 424-3309           Toll Free: 1-888-470-0773

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