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. The comments are just as useful as the main article. Everyone here seems fairly intelligent as well.

    This is not the case at any edm show. With the edm crowd coming back into the main spotlight, there are more and more people who just should not be there. People without any self control or moral boundaries. I used to be into the metal scene, and the unspoken rule was if someone fell ya picked them up, if someone looked like they wern’t ok ya helped em, and anyone who was being a dick got thrown into the crowd surf. There was more respect for each other, and edm used to be that way too, at least to a varying degree.

    How do you fix the crowd so the police arent so pissed off when they look at you?

    • Hi John. I completely agree. I was never a metal guy (like it..just not enough to go to a lot of those shows) but I was there for the end of the punk rock/beginning of New wave scene. Which was physical and anarchic but also had a “code”. My next article is seriously about how to “fix the audience” through a return to respect, responsibility and positivity. I hope you will check it out. Should be out Wed of next week. Please comment on my thoughts when it does!

  2. What is the correct response to NY’s “stop and frisk” law which seems to allow these things with no probable cause?

  3. The new tactic by these cops is to say the cell phone could potentially be a weapon and the officer must take it or the person with the phone must put it away to ensure everyone’s safety. You should comment on the best legal option to use when confronted with this issue.

  4. Reblogged this on Terry Gotham and commented:
    Critical Information for your everyday life.

  5. Pero Naliv says:

    Yeah but there is not so much ordinary police on the festivals, but inspectors searching for drugs and they have the right to search you to the bones and you can’t do nothing about it…

  6. Current cop says:

    As police officer, I initially read this on the assumption I was looking at another story of how to “politely disrespect” officers (LEOs). I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was, in fact, a well written article by an educated member of our society that gives valuable information on how not to become a victim of over zealous officers. That being said, I’d like to add that all of these tactics are great if you aren’t doing anything wrong; however festival goers and the likes should know the reason LEOs are at these events is ensure people have a safe and fun time. If you’re actually doing wrong, these tactics only stall the inevitable and eventually, you will be arrested and face the courts for your misdeed.

    Also, recording an event does set the tone (from an officers point of view) that you are being non compliant and confrontational. Excersise your own good judgement, and don’t get excitable. Much like the open carry activist, if you handle law enforcement with respect, they will most likely return the favor.

    It’s a blessing to see a reasonable statement on how to exercise your rights without causing trouble. My experience has taught me that if you’re right, you’re right, which applies to both side of the law.
    – anonymous per employer policy, however I have spent 13 years in local and state law enforcement. I currently serve for a mid size county Sheriff’s Office, in Texas and have served extensively in the Fire service and EMS.

    • it is not right when the ‘legality’ is the worst part of the ‘illegal activity’ i would like to partake

    • Currently not a cop says:

      If LEOs are there to ensure safety then why are they writing citations for drugs that consenting, mentally competent adults are using? I’m not even talking about heroin or bath salts, just marijuana and LSD, both of which are objectively less harmful than alcohol.

      It’s disingenuous to claim that they’re there solely for fun and safety. They’re there to enforce the law.

      I have no evidence for this at all but I suspect the municipalities use these events to bring in revenue in the form of drug-related citations and that’s why they tolerate these events being hosted in their jurisdiction.

      • @Currently not a cop:

        Because those substances are still illegal. If you have an issue with the fact that they’re illegal don’t angrily yell at the cop who has to write tickets out, and arrest people on the basis that they’re doing something illegal. Chances are, they’ve had to arrest someone for doing something illegal that they agree shouldn’t be illegal. Drug use may or may not be an example. Point is there’s fuck all he can do, if he lets it slide, and the courts fine out, he loses his job and credibility, and his family goes hungry, which isn’t worth some political shit over what “should be legal.” Of it’s that big a concern, write your congressman.

    • Officer thank you for your thoughtful and reasonable reply. Your comment is as valuable as anything I wrote in the original article. Law enforcement’s perspective HAS to be part of this discussion. I am actually writing a follow up article. If I would add one thing to the original article it would be that these tips are essentially a “BREAK GLASS AND USE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY” toolkit. I would only use these after you had tried “Step zero – be nice and treat the cop like a fellow human being.” I hate when people wear “fuck the police” shirts to a concert. It’s not how I feel. And it sends a super negative vibe and message. Actually, I hold a huge amount of respect for the police and for the law. (no I’m not going to play the “a lot of my friends are cops” card although it’s actually true because of my background) At the same time, there are tons of scenarios where people can run into a bad situation. A racist cop. An overly aggressive cop. Someone who doesn’t like your sexual orientation or thinks you are a pothead or a “weirdo”. I always advocate positivity. Dealing with cops is no different. But this message board is filled with stories of people who were not doing much wrong, who just got messed with by some cop having a bad day. People need to educate themselves and know their rights and be responsible for themselves and their Fest Buddies rights. so If a cop comes up to me at ACL and says “how you doing?” this weekend, I will smile and say “great Officer, how are you?..and not “go away, I take the 5th “. PS I hope if you are working ACL you will come up and say hi so I can thank you for taking the time to write this. Be safe and thank you for your service.

      • Great article and also good comments by most people too!

        All I’d like to add is that the police are the key people who begin the legal process against an individual. They’re human beings, not robots (yet anyway!), so I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest they have the ability to make judgement calls about who is deserving of an arrest, and who is really just violating the “letter of the law”. I’ve never really bought into the excuse or attitude that “there’s nothing a cop can do but make an arrest” if say, he/she finds probable cause of some marijuana use. Why can’t he/she simply decide to ignore it/let it go if it’s his/her opinion that nothing harmful has taken place?

        If more police officers would use a little selectivity in the situations they opt to get involved in, the world would be a far better place. (America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. Doesn’t that make anyone stop and think that maybe at least part of the problem is an over-zealous police force that’s trying too hard to make arrests for what amount to far too many laws on the books?)

        So often, I hear police uttering those famous words, “Tell it to the judge!” while writing a questionable ticket. Same problem! As soon as that ticket’s issued, the person is sucked into the morass of our justice system. The cop gets to go on his/her merry way, able to say, “That’s one more thing I accomplished today to earn my paycheck.” But the receiver of the ticket now has the burden of making a court date (which usually turns into 2 or 3 more of them!), possibly missing work to do so, and likely being out of pocket for “court costs” EVEN if he/she successfully defends the case against a judge. And that is probably only a 50/50 chance, because most such issues are a “he said, she said” scenario without a lot of proof available to argue one’s case with. The COPS need to be a little bit more aware of the grinder they put a person through as soon as they opt not to “let them go”. Only then will they truly fulfill the motto of “To protect and serve.”

    • Biggie Leaver says:

      “Also, recording an event does set the tone (from an officers point of view) that you are being non compliant and confrontational.” << And therein lies a problem. Why would recording an event set the tone that one is being non compliant and confrontational? Please enlighten us. Also, do you know that you work for a private, for-profit corporation that has usurped the Constitutional peace officers? Look it up on Dunn and Bradstreet so it's not hearsay. Before this usurpation, if there was no injured party, there was no crime. All crime have now been commercialized and given a monetary value. Refer to the UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) to verify this info. Finally, concerning the article, no one has Constitutional rights. The Creator bestowed unalienable rights upon us. The Constitution should merely protect ones rights. Ignorantia legis neminem excusat…

      • they just ignored this fact you stated . I would love LEO’s to march on washington against this fact and expose the usurpation you have stated. Maybe the LEO’s could wear a patch showing they will respect their rights as well for we are the same .

    • john smith says:

      What a load of rubbish, the police are at festivals to bump up the number of arrests they make at the end of the year not to “ensure” people’s safety as you put it. The worst part is they are so smug about it, they drink alcohol and smoke fags but they can’t get their head around someone wanting to do a pill. They are all drugs but 1 of them can’t be taxed by the government, if it could they would be throwing pills down everyone’s neck.

    • In other words, ‘officer of the law’, our behavior determines whether or not we are just simply harassed or if we get the fuck beaten out of us if we don’t listen to your kind. Laws turn people into criminals. Laws attract acts of crime, and the people who ‘break the law’ are turned into criminals under the false pretenses. And to my smokers, just steer clear of these ‘Bad Boys’. They don’t mind locking you up for having a good time just to meet a damn quota. Fuck the law.

  7. Earlier in section 3, you gave an example of refraining from answering any questions without a lawyer. “Whose backpack is this?” “Officer, I am choosing to remain silent”.
    However, in the next section, you mention illegal searches. “Can I search this bag?” “I’m not giving you consent to search my property”. By saying “my property”, did you not just answer his question in section 3? What’s the reasoning for not answering in this specific situation then?

    • Perhaps a bag was lost and then “found” by a police officer. Perhaps someone then “planted” drugs in the bag. The person who went to pick up the bag would be confronted as to whether or not it was there’s and it may be in that persons best interest to respond with the prior. I have known quite a few police officers to conduct unwarranted searches of that nature too so its not uncommon. This article is very helpful advice in general but I must say that I’ve found that most police officers working at Festivals are rather friendly, unconfrontational and I’ve never seen any make an arrest…

  8. I notice you didn’t dwell any further when it came to probable cause. For instance, if someone has dilated pupils from being under the influence of ecstasy, doesn’t that provide enough probable cause for the officer to detain you and possibly search you for drugs? What about pulling you aside and testing to confirm drug use? I feel this is similar to drinking and driving. You can be driving perfectly and look completely sober, but if you smell of alcohol, they have probable cause to breathalyzer you; how is this different from my dilated pupil example?

    • Hi Jon, there are a ton of variations on Probable Cause. And you are right, I didn’t dwell on it because there are so many it would be a super long boring lecture if I tried to explain it all. I was just trying to let people know what the standard is that a Judge would be applying after the fact to any encounter. This is a really complicated area of the law and cases turn on the individual facts of each situation. You are completely right about your question though. A VERY common scenario is: 1) Officer sees person in public place 2) Officer sees symptoms of being UTI of controlled substance which gives him right to do further investigation which leads to probable cause to arrest 3) Officer searches him or her “pursuant to that arrest. That is totally legal and I’ve read approximately one thousand reports that read like that. Also, a super common scenario is 1) officer sees erratic driving 2) officer gets you out of car after smelling alcohol on your breath and noting slurred speech and is allowed based on that to do further investigation while detaining you 3) officer does further tests and decides UTI alcohol and has probable cause now to arrest you. So, my point is, reasonable suspicion is the standard used to detain you to see if there is enough evidence to show probable cause to arrest. But my “tools” are really more meant for the following scenario : 1) walking along minding own business 2) cop decides to mess with you and your friends 3) you realize it’s going badly and decide to shut everything down and stand on your rights and have your friends videotape the encounter. I hope this answered your question.

  9. Thank you for the article! I was familiar with a lot of it, but the friend video taping idea was great! Cops have actually told me that’s illegal! Thank you, I knew it wasn’t!

  10. Hi Festival Lawyer,

    How should one approach a situation like the following: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/03/kim-nguyen-lapd-lawsuit_n_3861518.html?

    Long story short: A woman and her two male friends are waiting for their designated driver. Cops arrest the woman for public intoxication while refusing to let her friends know where they are taking her. She is later found on the street, bruised and badly beaten, allegedly having fallen out of the police car.

    If I was in a similar situation with my girlfriend, how could I protect us without aggravating the situation? If the cops want to take her away regardless of our pleas or questions, what am I allowed to do? More importantly, would I be able to stop the cops from taking her alone into their police car and driving off?

    • If they are kidnapping her with no reason of guilt, and you know it with proof. I would try to stop them in any way as its my duty to protect my girl. but if the cops are caught red handed in purposeful unconstitutional acts I would shoot the cops for conducing an act of war on the USA. The courts are washing to many hands with there paid vacations for cops.
      I have become a constitutionalist because of the threats against the USA…
      The USA is not the government it is solely the constitution and bill of rights. The government can be kicked out if the people see it best “if it lives up to the rights and constitution as stated in the constitution and bill of rights” because the supreme court has passed laws that straight jacket and attempt to void the constitution they are acting in unconstitutional behavior! The treason Clouse states that the constitution is the USA and any ACT to void, (alter in ways not for the people, straight jacket, make laws that go against the constitution and bill or rights) this would be a direct act of WAR and can even be considered aiding the enemy in some cases. it gets complicated.

      Here is an example from Florida. The police have no right to enter your car without consent, a crime being broken, or things that can be seen to show a possible law breaking by looking through the windows, but if the cops use a “camera snake” to fish around your car without the body penetrating the car is this considered unconstitutional.

      How about if you drive into the port where the “pick up zone” for people getting off the cruse ships are located and the Department of Homeland Security can take and search all your electrical devices without your consent if you don’t hand it over they make you get out of the car or truck and torment you. see it everyday.

      How about the new boxes at the downtown court house called “FREE SPEACH ZONES”
      There are many more here is the thing they don’t care to stop so its our job to stop the bad doers even if we have to invoke the constitution acts of protecting the USA…

  11. haunter9x says:

    I’m going to be very interested to hear how medical marijuana laws apply inside festivals, venues, parties, raves, etc, especially as I can see both sides of the argument

    • You read my mind..that’s a topic coming down the pike! thanks for the comment! Also, a lot of folks get in trouble by not understanding what their Medical Marijuana card allows and doesn’t allow.

  12. page crow says:

    QIK video is a workable video recording application, that uploads your phone video-recording immediately. Your video-file is stored “in the cloud”. Cops\federals cannot erase your recording. Later, you can edit & publish your recording. Best of all, it’s free. 🙂

  13. Loved this, makes me want to do my homework!!! Like when do you have to allow a police officer to search your car. You are parked in a lot, eating your fast food. Police come want to see your ID you do not have a drivers license, but, do they get to search your vehicle.

  14. I was leaving an event once with 3 friends in the early 2000’s at the Lancaster Expo Center. The event was organized by a production company out of this part of Pennsylvania. (Amazing events I must add) We left the party cuz we weren’t feeling the vibe of all the officials and such standing around. On our way down the road we had notice that everyone was getting stopped by the police. So naturally we were followed and a cop pulled us over. He told us he pulled us over for my friend having an air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror “an obstruction of view” he says. He then proceeded to ask us if he could search our vehicle. We paused for a moment and realized what was happening. We all whispered. ” No probable cause ” to each other. This is when my friend who was driving told him that she didnt feel that he had enough probable cause to search us. He then told us. “Have a good night” and walked away!!!!!!!!!!

    After that event. I was told that everyone who told them it was okay most likely got locked up on drug charges. A few months after this happend I was told that the FBI was investigating Raves and this event came up on the radar and was a total set up! The promoters were essentially banned by the FBI from producing events in the Northeast. Not soon after in June 2002 Joe Biden sponsored the RAVE act. a real tragic blow to the east coast scene. This was the beginning of the end.

    • Thank you for remembering the RAVE act. and thank you for remembering that Biden was the sponsor. The EDM scene needs to remember this history. I personally believe we are right on the cusp of a major anti rave backlash and the EDM community needs to recognize that. Unless we all take steps to police ourselves and be responsible for each other, someone is going to jump in and ban things again. I actually am working on an article on this very topic and your last paragraph reads almost word for word with something I wrote. People need to know their dance history. Thanks!

  15. That’s all well & good (and brilliant advice) however I’m not too confident that most people will remember all that with the plights I’ve seen most in at festivals!! Haha

  16. I make a point not to go to festivals where there are any cops…seeing as how cops can only make any situation worse. My yearly voyage to Summer Meltdown (Darrington WA) has been excellent every year – I hope the festival lawyer (and all you readers out there) can make it… See summermeltdown.com

  17. dee VANAD says:

    A number of years ago, two gentlemens approached my vehicle window at a McDonald’s parking lot, where I was enjoying my coffee and making a couple of cell phone calls. They flipped open badges and began asking me questions. Both were undercover, and had emerged from an unmarked car. After making them re-open their badges for my verification purposes, I briefly entertained a couple of their questions. to see what they were up to. They claimed to be investigating a friend of mine. Shortly, I was told in a very stern fashion that the U.S. Attorney wanted to speak with me – and that I was to come along with them. I immediately responded that unless I was being arrested, I would not be coming along with them. I further advised that if they did arrest me, I would not be speaking to any U.S. Attorney, but rather the U.S. Attorney could speak to my attorney. They both looked at each other in a surprised/confused manner, and then one of them stated: “So, you are not going to cooperate?” My answer: “I am cooperating in the exact manner I just stated.” Again, they look at each other and then the one closest to me asked me to repeat exactly what I had just stated moments ago. It was clear that they were not prepared for me to do anything other than follow their ‘orders’. I repeated my lines in a calm and matter-of-fact manner. They both immediately flipped their badges closed, turned and left. I started my vehicle and did the same. They did not follow me. True story.

    • wow, that’s insane. I’m not sure what to even say about something that crazy!

      • Mark Landis says:

        I know what I’d say… I’d say we are traveling the bullshit highway road, with our speed increasing exponentially. The real question is how far do we have to travel before we lose sight of the little town of Truthville?

  18. Question: Let’s say you have an audio-recording-only device. Does an audio recording in a situation like this do any good at all?

  19. sarahrwilson says:

    As to making a video recording, the key is to also stream it from the phone so regardless of what the police do to the device, there will at least be a copy of the video they can’t touch. The ACLU of NJ has an app for I-phone or Android that does exactly that. I’m surprised that someone hasn’t mentioned this already.

  20. “Don’t do anything illegal… Beware the Eagle…”

  21. I look forward to reading more of your column! Lots of good questions in the comments. Maybe in a future column you can take some time to research the new situation in WA and CO regarding legal marijuana, and the ways that this does or does not change interactions with the police. It seems we all have a story about an encounter with the police. I want to mention that a buddy of mine was once stopped on his way into a festival venue in PA. After some questioning, the cops asked if he could search the vehicle. My brother knew his rights, and felt certain the officer had no reasonable cause, so he respectfully refused to allow the car to be searched. The cop stepped away, consulted with his partner, and then let my buddy proceed. You can refuse a search. You can answer a question with a question. At attorney friend of mine advised me to say “Am I legally required to answer that question?” when asked a cagey question by the cops. The question that was asked of me, and I didn’t have a good answer at the time was “Sir, were you aware that you made an illegal pass?” Sure, I knew it was a risky move (no one was coming), and I know ignorance is not a legal defense. What to say? Now I know, and it applies in other situations. “Officer, am I legally required to answer that question?” This puts them on the spot.

    I certainly would like to see a response to the question about cops who don’t answer questions. Is this a legal gray area? I suppose a police officer has no obligation to answer questions.

    Know your rights and remain calm. It could save you thousands of dollars in legal fees and a LOT of heartache and wasted time!

  22. Awesome blog post – thanks for educating people on their rights and how to deal with aggressive, criminal, coward cops. The Peaceful Streets Project was founded because of the criminal cops of the Austin Police Department – so for those going to ACL or SXSW, keep an eye out for folks wearing peace signs filming the police!


  23. Reblogged this on The Live Bite and commented:
    With recent undercover police raiding cars at Beyond Wonderland Bay Area 2013, as well as making 100+ arrests inside the venue, festival-goers need to be more aware of their actions and know what to do if such confrontation with the police should arise.

  24. joe.lin@usdmf.com says:

    Please make a Facebook page so we can like it!!!!

  25. I am so glad someone is finally giving us regular people the straight talk about these situations. I have seen so many go down at festivals and have been blatantly harassed at festivals. Luckily, I have not been arrested at such an event and don’t really fit the “profile” the cops generally go after. However, our rights as citizens seem to be trampled upon more and more as time goes by. Thanks again for informing us of our rights and giving us proper statements to say back when questioned.

  26. There’s a point that you fail to touch on. When asking if you are being detained or free to go, a common tactic is they simply don’t answer you or just keep repeating their question. By not answering they are not committing themselves to “detaining” you so they can say you were free to go all along, but by not saying you were free to go, then if you walk away, they can say you were being detained and tried to flee because they never said you were free to go. I had a cop who thought he was going to play this game with me and he failed miserably. I just stood there and asked over and over if I’m being detained or am I free to go? He refused to answer and just kept saying all he wanted to know is what I was doing in the last 10 minutes before he approached me. Wanting my name because he had to write down that he talked to me. I refused. (I was not doing anything illegal to my knowledge, but it’s none of his business) He started the routine of you’re not answering my questions and that makes you a suspicious person. I flat out told him in a rather loud but calm tone, The mere exercising of a right to remain silent can not be construed as suspicion or give probable cause to detain me or assume guilt of anything, now I am going to ask you one last time, Am I being detain or am I free to go? He moved his head back and looked at me as he said, you’re free to go. I said have a nice day and walked away. I finally got the resolve I wanted but he refused to answer me for quite some time.

    • That’s a fantastic point and one that really needs to be addressed in the follow up to this article…Thank you for sharing this story. It’s absolutely true that what you are saying is a very common police tactic. Often they will take the step of just looking away as if listening to their radio or to someone when really they are just trying to ignore you.

  27. Obama is the worst president in history... says:

    I can’t do nothing than laugh….

  28. This column is fantastic. As a fellow festival-going lawyer, but one who’s not expert in criminal law or encounters with law enforcement, thank you so much for distilling the info while remaining accurate.

    I was wondering if you might do a future article about a situation that I’ve personally encountered, and one that friends have told me they’ve encountered as well: (i) A stranger intentionally hits/kicks/gropes/physically harms you, you try to disengage, and eventually law enforcement officers arrive; (ii) you explain the story to the officer and ask to press charges; (iii) the officer explains that your attacker is claiming that you perpretrated the attack, and therefore if you want to press charges, you must also be arrested (with the consequence that it will go on your record, etc.). Do the police have a right to restrict you from pressing charges like this, or is this just the officer trying to artificially keep crime rate statistics down? How can you proceed if you want to press charges but don’t want to get arrested?

    Thanks again!

    • I would love to hear about this too because in 2008 I was battered by an ex, I decided to flee but he wouldnt let me, police were called I was told that if i persisted on pressing charges I’d be sharing a cell with him and decided handcuff us both and ended up deciding to let us both go me first with a 15 minute head start

  29. Great article! Love the insight, commentary and, of course, the latin phrase! Haha, how very philosophical!

  30. Thanks for doing this blog.

  31. Wish I had seen this a few months ago! After leaving Wakarusa in an RV my husband and I were pulled over for an “Illegal lane change”. After the cop asked a bunch of questions, he nicely asked if he could take a look inside to make sure we didn’t have any “weapons or dead bodies inside”. Of course we stupidly said yes…becuz we didn’t want him to think we had either of these things inside. Upon entering the RV, he claimed that the straws in our garbage can are considered “paraphernalia” so he then had the right to search the entire vehicle. He made us stand 50-feet away while we watched him take apart the RV with an electric drill. He dumped out all my vitamins and medication into one big pile on the floor, open up all my cosmetics, went through my dirty (personal) clothes, dumped out all our food, and tore apart the lining on our RV rental. He then gave us tickets for the straws since in the state of Arkansas, “paraphernalia” is a crime. We didn’t argue or say anything, figured that was in our best interest. But because we live in Atlanta, we couldn’t exactly travel back to Arkansas to defend ourselves. We had to hire a local lawyer (that never met us) to defend us. My husband got the charges dropped against him, but the cop was adamant that one of get charged with paraphernalia – so lucky me. I work for a major TV corporation, I am a mom, and had no record. I was coming from a music festival in an RV. Everyone I spoke to told me we should have NEVER let him search the vehicle, but I didn’t know my rights or the law. We were just scared.

    • Thank you for sharing this story. It so needs to be repeated. The most common thing people ask me is “If you have nothing to hide why would not let yourself or your car be searched?” This is the perfect example of why. You were just two American Citizens travelling and should not have to justify why you don’t want to be searched randomly. I am sorry you had this experience. Please share this message..ITS IMPORTANT that people know of these stories.

    • I was told years ago in DARE that if an officer specifically states that they are searching for weapons, anything else they find cannot be used against you. In other words, they cannot use evidence against you resulting from a search for other evidence. Is this still the case?

      • No. In fact, i’m not sure that ever was the case. If a cop says I want to search your car for weapons and he finds a pound of coke in the car he is just going to say “oops” and put it back ? . I am not sure why someone would tell you that. I know that search warrants have to state the items they are looking for with “reasonable particularity” and have some limits based on the search warrant says…..so maybe that’s what they were saying. In any event, whether the cop says he is looking for drugs, guns, bombs, dead bodies, the answer remains the same. NO

      • An example where this may apply is with marijuana in New York City (or the state in general). Possession of a small amount was decriminalized in the 1970’s, but possession in public view is a misdemeanor. So a routine police trick is to say, “Empty your pockets” and if you do show some pot (supposedly consensually), then arrest you for having it in public view. But if they’d frisked you and found it themselves then there’s no violation. (New York Times.)

      • Add: Estimates are that this trick alone accounts for 2/3 to 3/4 of the 50,000 marijuana arrests in NYC annually.

  32. In the state of Florida, where I am from, you are not allowed to video-record the police unless it involves you, right? Thanks.

    • Wrong. Technically you can video tape anything if you’re on public property (freedom of the press)

    • No. Like Adam says if you are in public, on public property, or in a place accessible to the public, you can film anything that is in the “public eye”. The SCOTUS has consistently ruled that a person has no expectation of privacy while in public (see Girls Gone Wild as an example).

      • I am going to write a follow up on just this point. Short answer is Mike is right, even in states like this their is an exception for things where there is no “expectation of privacy”. But Ill talk more in the next piece about this topic.

  33. Great article.

    My favorite latin phrase is “does something smell like bacon?” I KID (never showed THAT disrespect to police)

  34. Police can pretty much do what they want, especially if you’re drunk or they find out you were on drugs. These by the book scenarios sound fancy coming from a lawyer, but truth is they’re irrelevant in real situations. Most of the time you’ll just end up arrested a lot faster. The whole recording the encounter is cool and all, but make sure to stay hidden. Cops almost always turn their aggression towards the guy with his camera phone out, and you end up arrested for interfering and misconduct or some shit.

    • Police can “pretty much do what they want’ because we as a society let them. We can work together to make sure we make it more fair or just accept that it will never change. I know which one I prefer.

      • It is darned scary that we have to think like this. It’s amazing when you realize that it wasn’t too long ago that people were whining that “criminals had too many rights”! Thank you for this primer.

  35. Good info, even if someone isn’t at a festival, since police officers are more visibly present than ever, with more rights than ever to interrogate people.

  36. This is good advice even if someone is not at a festival.

  37. I know this is kind of irrelevant but this situation happened to me not too long ago in Florida where a neighbor called the cops on me for a sound complaint. I had underage drinking going on in my house because my friends and i are from europe and had already been drinking for years so we took these things very lightly. When they showed up out of the blue in the middle of the night they were already provoked by god knows what and proceeded to threaten me with arrests if i didnt open the door immediately (my friends were hiding any bottles etc.) so it took a couple minutes. Hearing how mad they were i told my girlfriend to put our ipad standing up filming the door. Once we opened this brawny cop flung his foot inside the door and pushed it open only to push my girlfriend to the ground and told us all to get on our knees. One of his partners then scouted the area, found the ipad, grabbed it and started fiddling with it without anyones consent to: touch, search, or even come inside! She ended the video and deleted our only evidense. This then led to a long argument on why i was lucky i wasnt being arrested for not opening the door under “obstructing the law”. Even longer story made short these things made me feel utterly violated on so many levels to the point where I, as a non-violent person started feeling rage build up. I moved back to Europe shortly after but i wouldve loved to see them lose their jobs for this, how could i have seen that through? Help appreciated :/

    • I was once in a similar situation: cops in the property demanding we open the door. we just ignored him and he eventually left. Your error was in opening the door, had you not, they would’ve had no other choice than to, ‘force’ an entry… that would be brazen though.

    • I would have instead put the iPad in a corner or something not so visible, or even just laid the video down and only got audio. As for the rest of that, I don’t think that’s legal at all what they did, but I could be wrong!

  38. Reblogged this on dorismaran.com and commented:
    It’s good to know your rights!

  39. Every once in a while, out of the fog of a police state, surfaces a TRUE HERO…and, Sir, you are one. Thank you for what you are doing. All of which you discuss should be taught in all high schools throughout the entire nation…as we all know, “Officer Friendly” from grammar school becomes “Officer Prick,” once we start high school…and teenagers become their easiest and most ignorant target for abuse by local cops. Your valuable legal advise, postings and comments should be shared all over FaceBook and the Internet. I plan to do just that…starting right now. Again, thank you for all you are doing to educate the American People about their legal rights.
    ~~~Jose’ E. Martinez, Retired Federal Agent…U.S. Army CID

    • Jose,, for someone who was in Law enforcement and served their country to call me a “hero” is absolutely ridiculous but thank you. And more importantly, THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE. And if you and I are ever at the same fest/concert the first beer is on me.

  40. Sierra Cindy says:

    Were you at the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy a few years back? I’m glad that situation is under control. If that changed because of your help, thank you very much.

  41. Would love to hear about what to do when dogs are brought into the mix and “hit” on something in the vehicle… When do law enforcement officers have the right to bring dogs around to smell your car? We were stopped at Burning Man for having an obscured license plate… and were immediately told to get out of the car while they ran our plates/registration. Can they make you do that?

  42. Straight to Hell says:

    this is an awesome column. my husband was SO intimidated by the police, he brought them back to our house and let them in. they did this by randomly producing a baggy and saying “they” would take our children from us.

    i’m *still* mad and it’s been at least 5 years. we had nothing but he game them a dugout i had about 30 years. 🙁


  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] 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 […]

  3. […] 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 […]

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

  5. […] 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 […]

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