With the festival season well and truly here, thousands of partygoers are getting ready to have the time of their lives in music festivals all over Australia.
But with the recent negative publicity surrounding the tragic death of 19 year old Georgina Bartter, it’s no doubt that upcoming festivals will be dominated by a strong police and sniffer dog presence.
It’s therefore always a good idea to know your rights and what to expect when dealing with police at festivals.
So here are our top ten tips for dealing with police at music festivals:
1. Make sure police have a right to search
Police are only allowed to search you if they have a ‘suspicion on reasonable grounds’ that you have drugs or a dangerous item on you, or that you have or are about to commit an offence.
Police may seem intimidating, and may often try to use their authority to coerce you into submitting to a search based on observations that they may make.
But it’s important to keep your cool – in many situations police will not have ‘reasonable suspicion’ to conduct a legal search.
For example, just appearing nervous, sweating, or fidgeting will not be enough to constitute a ‘reasonable suspicion.’
On the other hand, a sniffer dog sitting next to you is generally considered to amount to reasonable suspicion – despite a recent survey suggesting that up to 75% of all positive indications from sniffer dogs are false – provided that there are additional reasons for police to form their suspicion.
If police stop you, you should ask calmly ask ‘could you please tell me why I am I being stopped?’
If they ask if they can search you, it’s best to politely say, ‘No, I don’t wish to be searched.’
If they search you regardless and it later transpires that they did not have any reasonable suspicion, there is a good chance that they will need to drop the case or, if they refuse to drop it, to have the case thrown out of court – even if drugs are found upon you.
In some cases, your lawyer may even be able to persuade a Magistrate to order police to pay your legal costs.
So if police stop you and ask to search you – always ask why.
They will probably say something like, ‘we believe that you are carrying drugs’ – in which case you should ask, ‘on what grounds?’
2. Give police your details
While you aren’t technically obliged to give police your details (name and address) unless you are arrested or reasonably suspected of committing or witnessing a crime, it’s often a good idea to do so if asked.
By giving police your details, you can ensure that the process runs smoothly – as sometimes, a refusal to provide details may suggest that you have a ‘guilty conscience.’
However, remember that you don’t have any obligation to answer questions that police ask you, and in most cases it’s actually better not to answer by saying something like ‘I don’t wish to answer’, as you may end up saying something that may incriminate you or your friends.
3. Don’t hide drugs in your hair or mouth
Sometimes, your mates might suggest that you hide drugs in your hair or mouth in order to avoid detection when searched.
However this isn’t a good idea – under the law, police have the power to ask you to open your mouth or shake or move your hair if they reasonably suspect that you are concealing drugs.
If you fail to comply with these requests, you could be fined up to $550.
Despite this, police do not have the power to forcibly open your mouth.
4. Remain calm
Police can be infuriating to deal with – and in some instances they may even provoke you to try and get a response.
But no matter what they do, it’s important to remain calm and not become aggressive or abusive.
Keeping a level-head will help you in the long run – if you lash out or abuse police, you may be charged with an offence such as ‘assaulting police’ or ‘resisting police’, which carry heavy penalties.
5. Record the incident
If you’re stopped by police, get a friend to record the incident on their phone.
If you end up being charged, this can prevent police from inserting inaccurate or incorrect information into their statements, which may be detrimental to your case.
If they do insert untruths, the footage can discredit their version of the events.
However, if you do get a friend to film, make sure that they do not hinder police or interfere with what they are doing, as this can give rise to additional charges.
6. Be aware of the charge of ‘deemed supply’
Did you know that you can be charged with drug supply if you are caught with a certain amount of drugs upon you (known as the ‘traffickable quantity’ of drugs) – even if police have no other evidence to suggest that you were actually supplying drugs to other people?
This is known as ‘deemed supply.’
It means that police can charge you with drug supply, which is more serious than drug possession, if you are caught with:
0.75 grams or more of MDMA (which can be just 3 or 4 pills!)
3 grams or more of heroin, cocaine or amphetamines
300 grams or more of cannabis
If you are charged with deemed supply, your lawyer will have to prove on the balance of probabilities (more than 50%) that the drugs were on your for something other than supply eg for personal use only.
In that case, your lawyer can write to police and formally request that they drop the supply charge or downgrade it to drug possession.
7. Stay silent if drugs are found
It’s important to remember that you have no obligation to speak to police or answer any of their questions.
It’s particularly important to remain silent if drugs are found upon you, as you might end up saying something that you will later regret, or that may give rise to more serious charges such as drug supply.
For example, you could be charged with drug supply if you tell police that you intended to share the drugs with friends or to give some away for free.
Remember, anything that you say to police can be used against you.
8. Know about the cannabis cautioning scheme
For minor cannabis possession offence, NSW police have the discretion to deal with the matter by way of a ‘cannabis caution.’
This is essentially a warning given to you by police about the use of cannabis, with information about the legal and health consequences of cannabis use.
It will not appear on your criminal record.
If you are issued with a second cannabis caution, you will be required to attend a mandatory education session with the Alcohol and Drug Information Service.
It’s important to remember that police may still choose to issue you with a court attendance notice if you are caught with cannabis upon you – it is up to them how they will deal with the matter.
And cannabis cautions cannot be issued where you are suspected of supplying cannabis to other people.
9. If you are arrested, don’t resist
If arrested, it’s important to stay calm and not fight back.
If you resist, you may be charged with ‘resisting arrest,’ which carries further penalties.
You may be charged with ‘resisting arrest’ if you try to run away or even if you just pull your arms away when police are trying to detain you.
You may be charged with ‘assaulting police’ if you lash out and kick, hit or spit at police officers.
It’s important to be aware of your arrest rights.
If police don’t comply with proper procedures, you can make a complaint to the Ombudsman or even seek to commence proceedings for unlawful arrest or false imprisonment.
10. It’s not the end of the world
Finally, if you do get caught, it’s not the end of the world!
Thousands of people are charged with drug possession and drug supply every year, and with the help of highly experienced drug lawyers, you can avoid a criminal conviction altogether in many cases.
Our specialist drug defence team frequently obtains ‘section 10 dismissals and conditional release orders’ in drug cases, which is where you are guilty but no conviction is recorded against your name– so that you won’t have to bear the burden of a criminal record affecting your future.
We have even achieved ‘non conviction orders’ in relatively serious cases – including supplying 20 ecstacy pills.
In some cases, we are able to get drug charges dropped at an early stage by carefully examining the case and finding problems – such as when an illegal search has taken place or where police cannot prove ‘exclusive possession’.
So if you do get picked up with drugs upon at a festival, our dedicated lawyers will be here to help, 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week.
Most importantly – stay safe, look after your mates and party hard!