Your Rights: If a Cop Stops You at a Festival

BreakingModern — What if a cop stops you at a festival? Do you know your rights? This handy infographic could make the difference between you scooting out of a festival and heading to the slammer. Really. And, it just pays to know your rights.

Stay calm, be polite and ask one question over and over if you have to: Am I free to leave? Scroll below the fold for a breakdown of what it all means.


Infographic: Courtesy of Showbams and The Festival Lawyer

“Am I free to leave?”

That question is key because you have rights under the U.S. Constitution, namely under the 4th Amendment of the Constitition, which prohibits so-called unreasonable seizures and searches. The police can’t just randomly stop you and get in your business. Just to stop you, an officer has to first believe you’ve done something against the law. He has to have reasonable suspicion to detain you and he needs probable cause to arrest you. Here’s how that all breaks down.

The Consensual Encounter

You are always free to leave in this lowest level of a police stop, where police stop you but you aren’t truly the subject of any police investigation. If you ask if you are free to leave the first time and they say yes, that’s the situation. Get out of there. If you don’t, a judge can rule later that you chose to stay and make things more complicated for yourself. Get out!


If you ask if you’re free to live and the cop says no, you are being detained. Immediately ask why you are being detained and, lawyers advise, provide no other information, as it could be used against you later. Conversely, if you challenge the fact that you’re being detained remember, be polite! The police have to justify why they are keeping you then and, if it comes to it, in court later. Though they don’t have to read you you’re Miranda Rights at that point, you do in fact have the “right to remain silent” and it’s true that “anything you say can and will be used against to you.” Lawyers say it is unwise to answer even innocuous-sounding questions, i.e., “do you know who this pouch belongs to?” for exactly this reason.

Don’t run away if the police say you are being detained, by the way. They’ll come after you, physically and legally, for “fleeing the interview.” Bad idea. A better idea: Stay cool.

“Am I being arrested?”

You may also ask why you are being detained. And, after they’ve detained you, you might ask if you’re being arrested and again if you are now free to go. Don’t worry about sounding like a broken record. You have to keep asking, or a court later might decide you were hanging out with the cops because you wanted to.

If the answer is still no, ask straight out if you are under arrest. The answer might be “no,” but know that if you are detained for long enough, you might be functionally arrested even with the cop ever saying so. This is what’s known as a “cover band arrest.”



If you have nothing to hide, why can’t we search your backpack?

If the cops try to search your belongings, just say no. As the infographic points out, make sure you say something akin to: No, I am NOT giving you consent to search my property or person.

If the cops feel they have to ask permission, that means they know they would be otherwise be violating your 4th Amendment rights to avoid unlawful search and seizure. If you go along, everything they find can be used against you.

And here’s another great comeback to memorize. Say you do not want to make a statement you want a lawyer. If the police make fun of this, know that that’s just police technique. There is nothing wrong with lawyering up. In fact, not lawyering up can be really, really stupid.

Don’t let the fact that the police have yet to read you your Miranda rights give you a false sense of security. The police don’t have to read them to you during the questioning process, even while they are detaining you. Until the lawyer arrives, say you wish to remain silent.

If the cops let you, and they’re still letting you use your phone and tablet, try to record audio or video from the questioning and the arrest. Make sure you are polite and say you are not trying to interfere, but point out that, since it is a public place, you are entitled to record what’s going on and that you intend to document the arrest.

Hopefully, this is all just a great exercise for you and your’e not going to be detained or arrested at your next music event. But if a cop stops you at a festival, you’ll be ready. As the infographic creators say, it pays to know your rights.

For BMod, I’m

Cover Art: “Sweden Rock Festival 2008″ by Äppelmos - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Gina Smith

Author: Gina Smith

Based everywhere, Gina Smith is the founding EIC of BreakingModern and the New York Times bestselling author of Apple founder Steve Wozniak's biography, iWoz: How I Invented the Personal Computer and Had Fun Doing It.

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