Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk
Knowing your legal rights when it comes to music festivals
With increasing police presence at music festivals, it is no surprise that more and more Australians are being arrested and charged for minor possession of drugs offences every year. With Spilt Milk right around the corner, it’s a good opportunity to learn about police powers within festivals and your rights as an Aussie punter. If you are searched, you have rights – knowing them will empower you to navigate the process.
Stopped & Searched
Police often attain general search warrants for the entire geographical area covered by a festival, which gives them the right to search persons, cars, tents, bags and other property at the festival. Aside from that, police can also search patrons if they have “reasonable suspicion” they are carrying drugs.
“Reasonable suspicion” is a vague term that gives police officers broad powers of search. Anyone displaying signs of nervousness — such as walking the other way upon seeing a sniffer dog, or looking suspicious – can and probably will be stopped and searched.
Police have the right to ask festival goers to turn out their pockets, open their bag or submit to other search measures, and a failure to comply with police requests is an offence that will likely see a person detained.
If you consent to being searched, the police have the right to search you even if they have no cause. If you do not consent the police may search you anyway so long as they have a lawful reason to do so.
If a police officer asks to search you, you do not have to consent and can politely decline. If you decline but an officer decides to search you anyway, you should cooperate with them. Even if you believe the search is unlawful — for instance, if you think police do not have reasonable suspicion to conduct the search – you should still cooperate.
If you are searched without consent, it will be up to a court to decide whether it was done lawfully or not. If you are later charged and can show that the police did not have ‘reasonable suspicion’ or other grounds to conduct the search, the search and evidence obtained may be unlawful and the charge could be dismissed.
If You Have Drugs On You
If you are caught with drugs, the police can take them off you and you can be ejected from the festival with no refund.
If police ask you to go to the police station to answer questions, you do not have to go unless you are arrested. Even if you have been arrested you still have the right to not answer their questions.
The only information you are required to give a police officer is your name and/or address if it is requested by them for a specified reason. If an officer asks for this information and provides a reason for the request – e.g. “I believe you have committed an offence, please provide me with your name and address” you must comply.
Consequences After the Festival
It is likely that police will be conducting roadside breath-testing and drug-testing on nearby roads, so if you have ingested any drugs or alcohol do not drive or you may risk losing your licence.
The severity of penalties for drug use or possession is ultimately at the discretion of the courts, however they can range from a fine to gaol time depending on the circumstances.
If you are caught with drugs you should seriously consider legal representation, even on what may be considered small charges.