It is common knowledge that music festivals are always crawling with police and their sniffer dogs.
But it may be surprising how many people get picked up at each festival for drug possession.
The most recent example was at the NSW Dragon Dreaming festival, which ran from October 24 to October 27.
About 2,500 people attended the festival during a four-day period, and dozens were been caught out by the 18 police officers and their two drug sniffer dogs.
Police also conducted drug testing for motorists leaving the festival, catching two drivers who tested positive for driving with an illicit substance present in their system.
74 people were charged with drug offences including drug possession, drug supply and drug driving.
The drugs found included cannabis, ecstasy, heroin, ice and magic mushrooms.
Taking drugs to a music festival always carries a high risk of detection these days.
But if you run into trouble with the law, do you know your rights?
Police do have the power to search you in some circumstances, but these powers are confined by the law and police regulations.
What are my rights during a search?
If a drug sniffer dog sits next to you at a music festival, this may constitute a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that drugs are in your possession and you therefore can be subjected to a search.
If you are being searched, you have the right to remain silent and avoid answering any police questions except for giving your identification details.
If the person searching you is not in a police uniform, you can request that they provide identification.
Even if the person is in uniform, you have a right to request their name and place of duty.
You must be told why you have been detained, and if they are searching you and find nothing they must release you as soon as possible.
What are my rights when it comes to sniffer dogs?
While the effectiveness of drug detection dogs has been questioned, police in NSW have the authority to use them without a warrant.
However, sniffer dogs cannot be used everywhere without a warrant.
Places where they can be used are:
- When a person seeks to enter or leave any place where the consumption of liquor occurs unless the premises are primarily a restaurant or other dining place
- When a person seeks to enter or leave a public place such as a sporting event, music festival, dance party or other forms of entertainment is being held
- When a person seeks to enter or leave public transport
- In some occasions in a tattoo parlour, and
- On anyone in a public place in Kings Cross
Police will need a warrant to carry out drug detection operations using sniffer dogs in other situations.
Even if you consider a small amount of drug use to be relatively harmless, the law doesn’t always see it that way.
Even first offenders caught out with only a couple of pills of ecstasy or a small amount of cocaine can receive a fine and a criminal record if their cases aren’t prepared properly and presented persuasively in court.
If you have been caught out during a music festival, getting legal advice and court representation from a specialist drug defence lawyer may be an effective way of minimising the chance of getting a criminal record, even if you have a relatively large number of pills or other drugs and wish to plead guilty.
If you are charged with drug supply due to the fact that you have a relatively large amount of drugs (which is called ‘deemed drug supply’), a top drug lawyer will often be able to get the ‘supply’ charge dropped on the basis that you plead guilty to the less serious charge of drug possession.
Your lawyer can then work towards helping you to avoid a criminal conviction, so that you can get on with your life without being worried about the potential impact of a criminal record on your career and travel prospects.