What to do if the police stop you at a music festival


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I know what you are thinking. What the heck’s a Festival Lawyer?

Is it a Public Defender who helps you out if you get arrested at a concert? No. (Although, to be honest, I wish I had thought of that as a job option after law school).

I’m a criminal defense attorney with a background as a former prosecutor. But I also have a background as a drummer, a DJ, and avid festivalgoer. The idea behind “The Festival Lawyer” column is to combine these backgrounds to give you legal and practical advice that will make you a safer, more responsible festivalgoer.

Advice like how to protect your rights if the police approach you at a concert. Or how to recognize the symptoms of a drug or alcohol overdose. We will talk about things like California’s Medical Marijuana laws or what to do if stopped for a DUI on your way to a concert. But mainly, the column will be focused on how we can make the Festival Experience work better for everyone as a more responsible, positive community.

As an aside, I’ve noticed that as soon as I start talking about knowing your rights, a certain percentage of people start complaining that I am somehow “teaching people how to commit crimes.”

This is dangerous nonsense. We don’t live in a police state (well, not yet anyway). As citizens it is not only our right but our duty to know and defend our Constitutional Rights and keep an eye on the police.

Anyway, let’s start with a hypothetical situation where the police stop you out of the blue in the middle of a music festival and start questioning you. They don’t say why they are stopping you but just immediately ask permission to search your person and backpack.

What should you do?

1. Like the Clash said, “Know Your Rights.”

Okay, quick criminal procedure tutorial.

In any encounter with the police, a Judge will be looking after the fact at whether the police had a right to stop you in the first place. This is because the 4th Amendment of the Constitution says that you have a right as a citizen to freely go about your business unless the police can show they had a belief you were engaged in criminal activity.

What the police have to show to a Judge later depends completely on whether the Judge finds that you were being “arrested”, “detained” or were “free to leave”.

If the police arrest you, they have to show they had “Probable Cause” to believe you were committing a crime.

On the other hand, the police will probably argue that they weren’t arresting you but just “detaining” you. A “detention” is a situation where the police stop you briefly while they investigate a crime but haven’t arrested you yet. In a detention, the police have a much lower burden of proof. They only have to show a “reasonable suspicion” as to why they were detaining you. Or the police may argue that their entire contact with you was just a “consensual encounter” where you were free to go at anytime. In a consensual encounter, they don’t really need to justify why they stopped you because they were just talking to you and you were “free to leave”, (Because people always feel free to walk away when contacted by the police, right?)

2. Remember the Festival Lawyer’s Key Phrases.

So knowing the above, what should you do If a cop stops you?

The first question out of your mouth should be, “Am I being detained?” Then, “Why? What am being stopped for? Am I free to go, or am I under arrest?”

Memorize this. Repeat it out loud: “Am I being detained? Why? Am I free to go, or am I under arrest?”

Yes I am aware that like the cop in 99 Problems, the cop may not appreciate you being so “sharp as a tack” and view you as a potential troublemaker.

So your job in this situation is to keep calm and cool. Be respectful but clear and firm in what you are saying. It is completely reasonable (and legal) to ask why you are being stopped and whether you are free to go. By asking from the start if you are under arrest or free to leave you are forcing the officer to tell you exactly what is happening and whether you are a suspect.

3. Miranda Rights: Myths vs. Reality

One of the most common urban myths out there is that the police have to read you your Miranda rights or the arrest gets thrown out of court.

Not true. The police don’t have to read you these rights. In fact, the police have the right to completely lie to you in any interview. The only time they have to read Miranda rights is if:

  • A) You are under arrest
  • B) They want to use a statement you made after being arrested in court against you.

The Right against Self Incrimination is in the Bill of Rights for a reason. USE IT. You should NEVER give a statement to the police without a lawyer. Period. No exceptions.

In the above scenario, questions like “whose backpack is this?” should be answered with a firm, “Officer, I am choosing to remain silent. I want a lawyer.”

4. Do not give the authorities consent to search you.

One other major Constitutional right you have is the right to be free from an unlawful search of your person and property.

So lets say you are already in a Festival when the police approach you. They won’t let you leave and ask for permission to search your backpack. (Obviously, security has a right to search you as you enter a festival and go through their initial security screening.)

Cops always make it seem like you’re some kind of a criminal if you express the slightest hesitation about having your property searched without a warrant. You can expect to hear an “If you have nothing to hide, why can’t we search your stuff?” type of verbal approach from the cops.

Know this…If the police are asking you permission to search you or your property, it usually means they know they are making an illegal search. Let that sink in for a second. When the police ask you “Can I search this bag?”, they KNOW they are asking you to let them make a search they are not legally entitled to make.

My advice? Respectfully tell the police officer, “I’m not giving you consent to search my property.” If they ask what you have to hide, don’t argue with them. Simply say again, “Officer, I’m sorry I’m not giving you consent to search my person or my property. If I’m free to leave I’d like to leave. If not, I’d like a lawyer please…”

At this point, they can still search you if they have probable cause, but what you’ve done with your statements is make them declare their reason for doing so and force them to show they are legally entitled to search you.

5. Document the Encounter.

In future columns we are going to talk a lot about what a Festival Buddy is and what their responsibilities are. In this scenario, the Festival Buddy’s job isn’t to yell “Hey man leave him alone” or drunkenly argue with the cops. Festival Buddy’s job is to whip out his or cell phone and document the entire encounter.

SPOILER ALERT – COPS REALLY FREAKING HATE THIS. The best thing to happen to Civil Liberties in this country was the invention of the cell phone camera and YouTube. But just bear in mind, cops will do just about anything to avoid having you upload your video of them on YouTube or on Social Media.

This is an area where your own comfort level has to dictate how far you push it. Legally, since you are in a public place you are completely entitled to film and record what is happening. But cops will sometimes argue that you are “interfering with an investigation” and threaten to arrest you. Or if you have had anything to drink they will suddenly decide that you are “publicly intoxicated” and try to arrest you. As a Festival Buddy you have to decide if you can safely film what is happening. That’s because your other job as FB is to stay out of custody and post bail and let your buddy’s family know he just got arrested.

I suggest that you say the following if cops order you to turn off your camera.

“Officer, I’m not interfering with you in any way. I am just documenting this arrest. This is a public place and I’m entitled to record this”.

While making this statement, I would make a show of backing up and getting out of the way to prove that you are not interfering but just observing.

If that doesn’t work and your Latin is good you can just tell them, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes” (pssst…that’s a joke but go ahead and Google it kids)

If things get crazier, be sure to get footage of the cop screaming “turn that camera off” before you turn it off. Everyone (You Tube, Media, Juries, Internal Affairs) loves footage of cops screaming “turn off that camera” to a calm person who is doing nothing but saying “I’m not interfering, just watching to make sure you are following the law.”

Okay that’s it for this column. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Festivallawyer and be sure to tweet at me for comments on this story or future story ideas. I’ll be back in two weeks with a new column!

Read the Festival Lawyer’s follow up article, highlighting the best reactions and responding to the most pertinent questions from this article.

BIO – The Festival Lawyer is not a professional writer (duh). I am also not a journalist or concert promoter. I am just a fan who has gone to concerts all my life. I like to say that I’ve gone to a “saw Pink Floyd, The Clash, White Stripes before they broke up” and “I wish I had started wearing ear plugs a long time ago” years-worth of concerts. I’m hoping you will consider The Festival Lawyer your legal spirit guide.

Like Showbams on Facebook and follow Showbams on twitter to get more advice from the Festival Lawyer and win free tickets to shows.


  1. I had a friend that was arrested by undercover at a rave but the way they took him I think was wrong they told the group of people we were with that they saw him touch a girl. They did say they were coos or anything they pushed use away and say stay out of it. They took him and try to cover up that they arrested him and the night we balled him out I asked did they ever read you Miranda right he said nope. They just took me wrote a report and I was sent to Jail

    • Dan Jones says:

      The police DO NOT have to read you your Miranda warning when you are arrested. The are also under no obligation to give you any information when they arrest your friend.

  2. JK Thomas says:

    I really like your approach here. Reasonable advice for the ones who are spun out like research monkeys.

  3. It’s difficult to find well-informed people in this particular subject, but you seem
    like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  4. Here’s a real scenario, it happened in 2003 in Nashville on the way to Bonnaroo.

    7 of us had rented an RV and drove to Bonnaroo. Once we were in Nashville, we passed an “unmarked” (marked, but not obvious from a distance) cop parked on the grass along the highway with an unmarked police SUV sitting next to him.

    When we went by the cops, I checked my speed and we were doing the speed limit. I looked in the mirror and saw the cop pull out as we passed him. He pulled in behind me, followed me for a few minutes, then pulled me over.

    Now, I know the best way out of trouble with the cops is to be pleasant and polite. It’s worked many times. I have not had a ticket in over 20 years, but I got a few written warnings. So when he motioned me out of the RV, I went back and spoke to him nicely. I gave him my license. He said I was straddling lanes. However, we had another car with us and they were following us the entire way, they did not stop when we were pulled over, instead they went to the next exit and waited for a call from one of us. They said I was not straddling lanes anywhere on the entire 6 hour drive.

    The cop told me to get back in the RV and close all the windows. I asked why he we had to close the windows. His response was because he didn’t want us hit by road debris. That surprised me, it was 90+ degrees, the RV was turned off, so there was no A/C and this asshole ordered me to roll up the windows.

    About 2-3 minutes later, the SUV who was parked with the cop that pulled me over, pulled up. He had a dog. He took the dog around the RV, jerked the dogs leash and the dog obediently scratched at the RV signaling he found drugs.

    So, then the cop comes back, tells me to get out of the RV, pats me down and puts me onto the shoulder of the road (where I could get hit by road debris!) and explains that the dog has indicated there is drugs in the RV and they are going to search it. No warrant. Maybe one of the other dozen or so cops who showed up for the search brought along the warrant, but I never saw it. And they didn’t wait for any other cops to show before they started pulling the other people out of the RV and searched them all.

    Then they entered the RV and proceeded to search it for the next 2 hours. They found that 2 of the people in the RV had 2 very small bags of pot in their belongings. Both times they found a baggie, they came out and said “who’s is this? If no one claims it you are all going to jail”, so the owners promptly gave themselves up.

    When they were finished, they may have realized they messed up because when a supervisor came to the scene and saw they had found less than a 1/4 oz of pot between all of us, he told them to let us go. They gave misdemeanor tickets to the 2 people who claimed the pot. We had to stop at the courthouse on Monday so they could take care of the tickets before we left. They had to go back for court about a month later.

    In retrospect, it was quite obvious that the entire stop was bogus. The cop who pulled me over said it was for straddling lanes, but as we were standing on the shoulder while they were searching the RV, the cop guarding us pointed to the license plate on the rental RV which had a dealer plate bracket framing the plate for the rental place. It covered part of the state name on the plate. That cop said we were pulled over for that. I didn’t ask him why we were pulled over, he volunteered that info. I was like, “Oh, really?”.

    Also, the dog seemed to be trained to respond to its handler. I was watching the cop & dog thru the rear view mirrors, and the cop clearly signaled the dog with his leash just before the dog started signaling that he found drugs.

    I also found out while waiting on the side of the road that we were not pulled over by traffic cops, but a special unit of the Nashville PD called the Drug Interdiction Task Force. So one can only assume, they were shooting fish in a barrel and just waiting for the next RV to drive by so they could pull it over and search it. They made alot of allusions to only drug dealers can afford RVs like the one we were in (It clearly had the rental place’s information all over the back). I explained to them that there were 7 of us splitting costs and that with gas, mileage and other rental charges, it came to less than $200 per person, about the same price as 3 nights in a hotel. It’s not like were were a bunch of kids. We were in our 30s and had real day jobs.

    I suppose if I had the thousands of dollars lying around to hire a lawyer, and the time to travel back (6 hour one way drive) for court dates and hearings, etc, I could have made a big stink based on the shady reasons for the traffic stop. And I would only have a case if there was dash cam video in the patrol car that pulled me over. Both cops who told me the two different reasons we were pulled over said it in front of the cruiser. And if there was video, it would have shown I was not straddling lanes. If I did make a stink and there was a dash cam in the car, you can be assured it would be accidentally erased as soon as the subpoena arrived.

    I know these were shady cops who will do whatever they can get away with because they know no one will question them, but what can be done in a situation like this with a corrupt PD that will make things up for an excuse to search you? It’s your word against the cops and when that gets to a judge, the cop’s word wins.

    If a dog hits on your car, does that give them probable cause to search without a warrant?

    Did the cop have any right to order me to roll up the windows?

    The RV was brand new when we picked it up. It had 500 break in miles on it. We were the first rental. They caused $500 in damage to the cabinet/closet doors. When they let us go, they told us of the damage, then one of them commented that we should just forget about the whole thing and we are lucky they are letting us go and we could all be going to jail.

    I ended up getting a warning for straddling lanes.

    I have not stepped foot in Tennessee since then, and there is no way in hell I will let one penny of my money be spent in that state ever again.

    It’s like that all over the south tho. I thought about the 12 hour drive to NOLA for Jazz Fest this year, but decided against it since I would have to drive thru bumfuck Mississippi and Louisana to get there. No thanks. Besides illegal searches, they steal your cash and your car by using asset forfeiture laws. NO need for a conviction, just gotta say they think the money is from illegal sources. It’s up to you to pay a lawyer $10K to prove the money came from legal sources to get your car and money back, so most people just walk away from it.

    No way in hell am I ever driving to a festival in the Confederate States again. It’s a different country down there. They even got a different flag!

  5. Reblogged this on floatingsheep and commented:
    To Know.

  6. authority can do what ever they feel like if you are not sure of your rights. I was at mtn jam at hunter mtn NY last week end I have been sober for 3 years. i had woke Saturday morning sitting in my 75 VW camper when I had 7 undercover agents approach me. my bus was loaded with 6 boxes of shirts that i was planning on vending at shows ( i decided not to vend at this festival because security was so bad). I had nothing illegal in my vehicle just boxes of shirts. I was asked to empty out my vehicle because of vending without a permit. the more i argued with them the more they decided to confiscate from me i asked to see a badge they would just take more. after picking and choosing what they wanted my wristband was cut and I was escorted off the property. after it was all done they had taken around $1000 worth of shirts with no ticket and no proof of selling illegally. i was by myself so they were able to coerce me a little more since i was unable to risk loosing all my merchandise. a vending without a permit ticket may have run me $250. in the end the only crime that was committed was by the undercover officers that stole from me.

  7. Know where you are for instance number 4 can get tricky in lets say nyc where there is stop and frisk

  8. I was walking along outside the Omni in Atlanta when a cop stopped me and ask if I had a ticket. I told him I did . he ask me to show it to him, I did and he let me go on. I know places don’t like it when people show up without tickets but that was bullshit. must have been the tie dye shirt.

  9. Surprised says:

    On nearly every ticket I’ve purchased it states clearly by purchasing this ticket you are subjecting yourself and all your belongings to search. My understanding of this is that this event is a pubic event being held by a private organization and they have a right to search you at will if you want to attend. If you don’t want to be subjected to a search you can leave the event. Thoughts on this?

    • Your bags and belongings may be searched upon entry by security into just about any public or private facility, but that does not give the police the right to indiscriminately search you once you are inside. The entry searches are for security purposes and for denial of entry, not for the purposes of getting people arrested.

  10. Ok. So… It is actually illegal to take videos or pictures of a police officer if that’s the law in the county/city/state that your in. HOWEVER you can record them if you say that you think something illegal is taking place. And if they take it away from you/ arrest you/ or make you turn it off/ that’s obstruction of justice. They could get in a lot of trouble for that. ALSO, Cops don’t give you Miranda Rights they give you a Miranda Rights reminder, You always have those rights. Wheater your detained or arrested or just being questioned. You don’t need to say jack shit to them. However if you just remain silent then entire time and you dont defend yourself… they could just arrest you since they dont have any reason to do otherwise and have a probable cause.

    • No. Actually much of what you just wrote is wrong. I actually wrote a subsequent article about all the attorneys who wrote in to correct me on the video tape issue and why legally they are wrong. For example you say that whether videotaping something is Illegal depends on whether you yell out the magic words “i think something illegal is taking place”.That’s crazy urban legend nonsense. In CA (and anywhere else I know of ) It’s because it’s in a public place.and the only issue is whether you are interfering with the officers. As long as it’s public and you don’t interfere with the cops its’ legal. If you go to “What to do if the Police Stop you at a Festival part 2” and you can read more on that.. In CA,) By the way, I have never seen a successful prosecution for Penal Code 148 (it’s not called Obstruction of Justice but resisting, delay or obstruction of a peace officer.) Obstruction of Justice is a completely different charge and has nothing to do with this. Penal Code 148 is entirely different.

  11. That was a great article. I thought I already knew my rights but I learned a few things I never knew. Giving this to my kids to read.

  12. Thank you, Festival Lawyer, for taking the time to educate the lay person regarding our rights, and how to protect ourselves in situations dealing with the police. This is such valuable information that the average person, like myself, would never have known if I wouldn’t have ran across your article. I consider myself relatively intelligent, as a college-educated Registered Nurse, but thinking I don’t have anything to hide could have potentially hurt me tremendously. Scary! Please continue to pass on this invaluable information, and, I have to add, the comments are really interesting and helpful as well! THANK YOU!!!!


  1. […] KNOW YOUR RIGHTS (USA) – (What ever country you live in, inform yourself) (Excellent advice from the ‘Festival Lawyer’) […]

  2. […] Festival Lawyer shared this post, originally published at showbams.com, via CopBlock.org’s submit […]

  3. […] my very first article, “What to do if the police stop you at a music festival” I tried to point out how vital it is to understand and exercise your right to remain […]

  4. […] my very first article, “What to do if the police stop you at a music festival” I tried to point out how vital it is to understand and exercise your right to remain […]

  5. […] Yay! You made it. So what do you do if you get all the way to a festival and the cops stop you? Heck, you should already know the answer to this. […]

  6. What To Do if The Police Stop You at a Music Festival | The Live Bite | Indulge in new experiences says:

    […] Sage advice from The Festival Lawyer. Read original article on Showbams […]

  7. […] Yay! You made it. So what do you do if you get all the way to a festival and the cops stop you? Heck, you should already know the answer to this. […]

  8. […] 1. Must-Read: The Festival Lawyer explains what to do if the police try to stop you at a music festival.  [via Showbams] […]

  9. […] threw down a challenge to write a similar post to this one from The Festival Lawyer in the US: http://showbams.com/2013/09/25/what-to-do-if-the-police-stop-you-at-a-music-festival/. I love a challenge and the idea is frikin awesome. This is one of many posts to come so here […]

  10. […] I have already covered all of this in a prior article in a lot more detail. If you haven’t already read it or need a refresher of your basic rights, take a look here. […]

  11. […] be that person’s lifeline to friends and family. (If you need to get up to speed on this, here is Part 1 and Part 2 of “What To Do if The Police Stop You at a Music […]

  12. […] As a criminal defense attorney, the constitutionality of police activity is an issue that comes up repeatedly in my practice.  It is also an issue that is just as important for my clients to understand it is for me to understand.  I recently stumbled upon a blog that addressed a type of situation where it is especially important to know your rights vis a vis the police: the crowded public event.  ”The Festival Lawyer” is a contributor on the blog Showbans, a blog dealing with concerts and music festivals.  The post I’ve linked to does a great job of detailing what to do if you’re stopped or approached by police while at a concert, music festival, or pretty much any event that draws a large crowd.  This advice is important for a few reasons.  First, while a police encounter can be a frightening and intimidating experience in general, it can be even more so when it takes place in the context of a crowded event.  Police are inclined to be more agressive and close-minded when they are involved in crowd control.  As a result, someone attending an event where there is, say, widespread alcohol consumption and/or illegal drug use needs to be aware that the police might be highly assertive and combative.  Second, it is important to know that a person’s right to be free from unreasonable police conduct is not diminished simply because the police have an interest in crowd control.  For example, a police officer cannot stop a person unless they have a reasonable suspicion that that person has engaged in a criminal act.  This is true whether the person is walking down the street on a Wednesday afternoon, whether they are tailgating at a Packers game, or whether they are checking out the main stage at Summerfest.  To learn more about what to do if approached by the police at a crowded event, check out “The Festival Layer”: http://showbams.com/2013/09/25/what-to-do-if-the-police-stop-you-at-a-music-festival/ […]

  13. […] festivals have lawyers, and they are dropping knowledge on kids to keep them out of rave troubles. Here is what to do if the police stop you at an event. You didn't hear it from us […]

  14. […] festivals have lawyers, and they are dropping knowledge on kids to keep them out of rave troubles. Here is what to do if the police stop you at an event. You didn’t hear it from us […]

  15. […] September 25th, I published an article with Showbams entitled “What To Do if The Police Stop You at a Music Festival“. If you haven’t read it you can find it […]

  16. […] What to do when the cops turn their attention on you at a music festival. (via Showbams) […]

  17. […] knowing your basic rights in such a situation. The full article explaining the tips can be found here. Now the only problem you face is remembering them all after you’ve thrown a few back at your […]

  18. […] days ago on Showbams.com, an article was featured, called “What To Do If The Police Stop You At A Festival.” […]

  19. […] days ago on Showbams.com, an article was featured, called “What To Do If The Police Stop You At A Festival.” […]

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