What To Do if The Police Stop You at a Music Festival

The Festival Lawyer shared this post, originally published at showbams.com, via CopBlock.org’s submit page.

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 festival goer. 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 Festival Goer.

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.

The Festival Lawyer

  • Ghost

    Thanks for posting this article. I’m glad you’ve decided too come here and give us some sound advise. I’ll be looking for more from you. Most of us here know to use our rights. There’s always the few that can read it again and again and learn nothing. I can’t wait for the trolls on this one. Shout out to t and slappy aka Jake C. Thanks again.

  • James Dutton

    Whoop out that medical mj script

  • keepitreal

    Oh come on now, G – you know those guys are far more knowledgeable on the law and how to conduct yourself around cops than a criminal defense lawyer is. Just ask them.

  • Reality Check

    MJ is still illegal federally and any police officer at any time can arrest you for it, just an fyi. In states where the state prohibition on MJ has been lifted Departments choose not to enforce the federal statutes -by policy- not law.

  • t

    Relatively good advice. Far from perfect though.

    I don’t have to answer your questions on the street or at the “festival” location. I have openly mocked the idea of the “am I being detained” mantra that Cop Blockers push. Not because it’s such a bad idea to get clarification…..but because what do you do when I answer “yes.” ? Oh, you will be being detained. Strike.

    Record away. But stay out of the way. Hey, that rhymes I should put that on a t-shirt and sell it at “festivals”.

  • Ghost

    Not a cop blocker saying it t. A defense lawyer. A former prosecutor at that. So much for that. It seems a perfect world for you would entail us all to carry id around our necks, if not tattooed, and just take whatever you dole out. It won’t happen guy.
    Let’s not forget the subject is a citizen minding their own business. Not a criminal or suspicious person. Not a fictitious scenario either. This plays out everyday. Typical you plainly admit you would detain a person for nothing. Thanks for “not answering my question. “

  • Ghost

    No need to ask. We will all be taught. One way or another. It’ll take me dying to learn our rights mean nothing.

  • keepitreal

    Wow, comprehension problems much? In just about every instance I’ve read of the “am I being detained” mantra, it is also said that if the answer is “yes”, then ask what law is being broken, suspected of being broken, etc.

  • Chum Lee Jr

    Asshole pig

    Someone is gonna catch you without your gun, badge and buddies – and they are gonna beat you like a redheaded step-child.

    We will laugh, and laugh – and your wife won’t have to stop hiding the fact that she’s fucking a couple of your “brothers” while you’re at work.

  • Keith Shedron

    I never see advice concerning a cops refusal to answer the question “Am I being detained?” If the cop refuses to answer, what then? How can I be certain if I am being detained?

  • t

    Guy…first, you are watching too much tv. I’ll get back to that.

    What didn’t i ‘comprehend’? I said it’s fine to ask the “am I being detained
    My question to you is what do you do when I answer yes.
    Back to your TV learning…..I don’t have to hold court in the street.
    I don’t have answer your questions about why. In the street.
    Frequently we will as it helps to move the investigation along,
    but that’s TV learning that I will automatically explain it to you.

    RS is (in a very boiled down description) would a reasonable police officer
    believe that crime is afoot.
    You, in the cop blocker way are wanting to operate at the BRD standard
    in he street. And that’s not how it works guy.

  • Common Sense

    Actually no, local and state police, unless individually federally sworn or working in conjunction with a federal officer or agreement has no authority to make any arrest for any federal offense.

  • Jake C

    When you attend a concert, you are abiding by the rules set up by the people who set up the concert. You can usually get those rules by contacting the people who are puting on the concert. Some concerts don’t allow any recording. Funny how the “lawyer” didn’t mention that. There are city or township laws that have to be enforced. The “lawyer” didn’t mention that. This article is supposedly written by a “lawyer”. Whether or not that is true is up to the reader. There are going to be instances where people maybe arrested for being intoxicated, having drugs or alcohol, fighting, ect.. The only thing that makes this article less credible is the “lawyer” is trying to play “doctor” by telling people all the signs and symptoms of being intoxicated. There is some information about cause and effect in this article. But it really sounds like an advertisement to pick up clients.

  • GoAwayObama

    And I would also offer this tip, set your phone to auto-upload your video to some kind of cloud service or file sharing site. Also, enable passlock on your iphone or gesture lock on your Android. that way the cops have absolutely no way to get into your phone and delete the video. they are known to do this. If they cannot gain access to your phone and delete the video or photos, their next step is to just smash the phone. If you have LTE hopefully your video was fully uploaded to the cloud prior to it being smashed.

    Good luck and have fun at the festivals!!

  • t

    Keith: Then walk away. My point is…..what do YOU do when indomanswer yes?
    I don’t have to explain it to you although I most likely will by asking you a question (which you don’t have to answer). You can ask if you’d like too…but that would entail you talking to me which violates the Cop Blocker Code of “never talk to the police”. So just stand there….or sit if told to. You don’t have to cooperate any further than that. But when you are detained….you may want to talk (I know…it violates the CB Code) but quick, truthful answers will likely lessen the time of your detention and therefore lessen the time the police will be in contact with you.
    But do whatever you’d like. In the end, it likely won’t matter. I can keep,you detained as long as my RS continues and a sling as my investigation progresses.

    You choose.

  • Trillium

    I was stopped driving by a cop once, who deserves no respect from me. He gave me a bullshit excuse for why he stopped me (as I had not been even close to speeding and had no defects to lights, etc). Rather when I drove past to where he wAs stationed in the median, I had my windows down and my dreadlocks blowing out in the 60mph winds. I was also coming from a small hippie town where the highways had recently received a lot of “targeting” from highway law enforcements on drug searches. However, I myself am and have not been a user for nearly 10 years. Yet after immediately saying he stopped due to (bullshit excuse), before even asking for license, registration or insurance he asked if I was carrying illegal substances and if he could search my car! Now I knew these rights thanks to a very dedicated High school teacher, and regardless, HAD nothing illegal. Yet, I was beginning a trip back with little time to spare and had no time for such antics or even tolerance for such profiling. I told him I was cutting it down to the wire to get home in time for work, but was outraged I had to even offer such an “excuse”. After checking my documents he asked to search me again. I told him I really must be going if he had nothing else to tell me relating to the reason he stopped me. After saying no he even asked me one more time if he couldn’t search my car! I respectfully yet firmly told him no and he finally left. I was apalled and offended at the injustice. So tell me why is it wrong that someone teaches people to stand up for themselves when often these cops’ “reasonable suspicion” is hustled based on their own shallow judgments. And especially at a concert or festival setting where all citizens have the right to go as they please and cut a little loose and have a good time, within the limits of the law? Unless that police officer literally witnesses the crime, I think to hell with their reasonable suspicion without expressly stating their intention of detaining or arrest.

  • Trillium

    Oh yes by user I meant of the occasional MJ in college. Sorry but who really hasn’t in college?

  • runwolf13

    On major problem with this device. It is often a clause of the ticket that you will not record while at a festival. Be careful of that little tidbit.

  • Chum Lee Jr

    Asshole cop…

  • Chuck

    God, when will these turds realize we know what’s best for them and let us do our jobs? Can you imagine how great this country would be if everyone would just comply? SUBMIT NOW!

  • Chuck

    That’s right t . Way too much tube time for these kids.

  • Keith Shedron

    If the cop has such a need to demonstrate authority that he refuses to respond, then I have a dilemma. I am dealing with someone that is mentally unstable in some way and that person is armed. If I walk away as you suggest, I am increasing the possibility of being beaten, tazed or murdered. No thanks. My challenge is, if a cop stops me and refuses to tell me whether or not I am detained, I cannot later challenge the stop as an illegal detainment as the cop could simply deny that I was detained.

  • t

    Keith….clean the wax out of your ears guy. I said that the officers answers yes to your question. Now what do you do? Do you live by the CB Code? Or do you talk?

    Remember I said that overall this article had pretty good advice. Just not complete info. Maybe he’ll follow up with it later

  • t

    Ummm….that’s more tv stuff guy. I enjoy a robust life with my family and friends. I love my church, coach baseball, basketball and soccer. I make positive impacts on everyone I meet. Sorry if that doesn’t read like the script from a bad movie

  • jarl bulgruuf

    are you canadian? I can’t help reading your posts in the south park canadian voice with all the “guy”s

  • keepitreal

    So you can detain somebody and give no reason at all? Just because “I said so”. Well, as I’ve stated before, I in no way believe you’re really a cop. So I also would tend to doubt your observations on what a cop can and can’t do. Even with all of your 2/10 and 3.5/37 or whatever the fuck nonsense you spout.

  • keepitreal

    No credibility, slaps. Most don’t even read your post past your name. You used this identity up quick. Even faster then JF123. Which is surprising, considering the video incident and all.

  • Chum Lee Jr

    Asshole pig

  • Chum Lee Jr

    Asshole pig…

  • Eric Mora

    #3 Two conditions must be met before the police are obligated to read you your Miranda rights. You must be in custody. (cuffed) And they have started a line of questioning. If they are simply questioning you, they do not have to inform you of your rights. If they are simply cuffing and stuffing you, they do not have to then either. But, if they have you in cuffs AND are questioning you, they have to read you your rights first.

  • ISmellBacon

    I hope everyone realizes that if we want the jackboot behaviour to change we need to start doing things like getting the crowd to physically (but non violently, ie. use a dog pile and disarm approach) stop the police from doing this. Trying to get justice (revenge) afterwards doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t prevent the problem. It doesn’t do much at all. But if everyone there physically stopped the officer, disarmed him, and then explained why what he was doing is wrong then we wouldn’t have a problem.

    Of course if he is peacefully and respectfully conversing with someone you wouldn’t do that. But say he does stop someone illegally, does keep harassing them to allow a search, and the person states they are leaving (because they have a right to, they haven’t done anything wrong) and then the police take that as an excuse to tackle them and drag them off and lock them in a cell. Well don’t let that happen. Physically stop the officer. That’s why we created a police force – to protect us from that kind of systemic violence. Now they are the perpetrators of that violence and we need to peacefully police ourselves. It’s not hard. And they can’t shoot us all.