Most of your rights as a citizen are afforded under the Constitution but do you know what they are in any given situation?
For example, if your home is being searched by police, what can you demand? Or not demand?
Stopped by police in a roadblock? Visiting a police station to make a report?
Beginning today and continuing every Monday, look out for valuable information in our Know Your Rights column. Be informed. Got a question you want answered? Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: What do I do if police officers attempt to search my home?
A: If police officers come at your home to search it but did not present any warrant, you have the right to request to see the warrant they obtained from the court, under Section 5 of the Preliminary Enquiry Act, allowing them to conduct the search. During the search, even though it is not a right, you or any other occupant of the house ought to be present to oversee the search. This practice is usually carried out by officers to protect them from any allegations of “planting evidence”. The request to see the warrant does not apply in instances where, for example, the officers are in “hot pursuit” of a criminal suspect or if the officers are entering your property to stop or prevent the commission of an offence.
Under the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act, officers do not need a warrant to search your vehicle. However, you can still request to oversee the search.
Q: How do I know if my police report will not be taken seriously?
A: When making a report at the police station, you have the right under the Police Service Act to request a receipt as proof of your filing the report. You also have the right to request the name and regimental number of the officer to whom the report was made. If at any point in the future you believe your report is being ignored, this information can be used to assist in resolving the issue.
Q: What are my rights if police attempt to question me?
A: If you are being questioned by police officers, you have the right under the Police Service Act to request his or her name as well as their regimental number. You also have the right to remain silent if you so choose. In relation to traffic offences, the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act requires that you hand over your driver’s permit and insurance if requested by the officer for inspection.
Should you, for any reason, be arrested and taken in for questioning, the Constitution gives you the right be informed by the officers of the reason for your detention as well as the right to request a telephone call and have an attorney, relative, friend or anyone you choose present during the interrogation process. Even if those requests are granted, you still have the right to remain silent.
Q: What if as a witness I am not comfortable answering certain questions in court?
A: The Constitution provides protection to witnesses who fear they may end up in trouble with the law should they answer certain questions during court proceedings. If you, as a witness, feel uncomfortable answering a particular question because of possible self-incrimination, you have the right to refuse to answer the question. If a person incriminates themselves, there is a possibility they could later be taken into custody by law enforcement officers, questioned and possibly charged for the role in any crime for which they may have associated themselves. In most instances, after such a question is asked, the magistrate or judge will immediately inform the witness that, under the Constitution, they are not obligated to answer if they believe they will be incriminating themselves. It is then for the witness to decide whether they will answer the question or not.
Q: Is there such a thing as freedom of speech and expression?
A: Under Section 4(i) of the Constitution, every citizen of Trinidad and Tobago has a right to express their views and opinions on any subject matter. However, even though you are free to do so, freedom of speech and expression is not absolute, since you can find yourself before a court for libel or defamation of character, should you tarnish someone’s character while expressing such views. While the use of obscene language could also be considered as freedom of speech and a means of people expressing themselves, the use of such language in public could also result in you finding yourself before the court.
Q: Can I be charged for being in possession of less than 60 grammes of marijuana?
A: Under the Dangerous Drug (Amendment) Act, a person will not be charged for this amount, but instead can be issued with a fixed penalty ticket if found in possession of more than 30 grammes but less than 60 grammes of the drug. However, even though a person will not face criminal charges for being in possession of less than 60 grammes, just like with traffic tickets, the Act allows them to challenge the issuance of the ticket in court if they believe it was unjustified.
Q: What if I believe I am being unlawfully detained by police?
A: Section 4(g) of the Constitution gives every citizen the right to freedom of movement. But the Constitution also provides provisions allowing this right to be limited by specific legislation and in specific circumstances. If you have been detained by police officers beyond “a reasonable time” without any charges being laid, you are free, through your attorneys, to file a writ of habeas corpus filed at the High Court seeking your release from custody under the Constitution.
The police will then have to justify to the court for what reason you have been detained in excess of the time permitted by law. The court will then make a ruling as to whether your continued detention is justified or if you should be released from custody. Before such matters are filed, officers also have the option of applying to the court for additional time to keep a person in detention.
There a number of cases in which it was stated that 48 hours was “a reasonable time” for someone to be detained. However, someone can be detained beyond 48 hours based on the type of investigation and its complexity.
Q: Can I record police officers in the execution of their duties?
A: It is not an offence to use any recording device in public so therefore, it is legal to record police officers, or other members of the protective services in the execution of their duties. But if while doing so you obstruct the officers in the execution of their duties or incite other members of the public to assault, obstruct or resist the officers, you can be arrested, charged and taken before a magistrate to answer the charge under Section 59 of the Police Service Act.