Been caught with drugs at a festival? Here’s what you need to know.
By criminal lawyer Joseph Harb. Mr Harb is a specialist drug lawyer whose results include securing non-convictions for supply of 560 ecstasy tablets and possession of 88 ecstasy tablets at festivals in Sydney.
What can happen if you are caught with drugs at a festival
In NSW, police can charge you with a number of offences relating to drugs. These can include:
- Possession: Having drugs on you for your own personal use.
- Supply: Actively selling or providing drugs to another.
- Deemed Supply: Possession of enough drugs that a police officer might assume you intended to sell them. Specifically, these amounts are a minimum of:
- Cannabis (leaf or heads) – 300 grams
- Heroin – 3 grams
- Amphetamine – 3 grams
- Ecstasy – 0.75 grams or 15 tablets
- LSD – 0.003 grams or 15 tablets
- Holding Drug Equipment: Having on your person drug paraphernalia such as tourniquets, swabs, and spoons along with syringes.
More serious charges exist for long term or large-scale supply as well as manufacturing and running a ‘drug premises’.
Caught with drugs: What the penalties may include
The penalties for being caught with drugs at a festival will vary. The outcome depends on the severity of your case and any prior convictions you have.
While the maximum penalty for supply or possession of drugs is imprisonment, whenever we represent a client charged with possession or supply of drugs at a festival, our aim is to ensure that they leave court without a conviction or criminal record. We do this because a criminal record for drug offences can haunt you. It can mean you will never be able to get certain jobs. It can also make it harder to get a visa so you can travel overseas. You can read more about having no conviction recorded here.
Police drug searches: Your rights
If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe you are in possession of prohibited drugs, they have the right to search you. There must be a factual basis for the suspicion. Police guidelines direct police to consider things like the time and location, your behaviour and “antecedents” (whether you have a criminal record or other information known to police). Simply being present at an event such as the Mardi Gras party or a music festival is not a reasonable ground to suspect you are carrying drugs or something illegal.
If the police do not have these “reasonable grounds to suspect”, the search is illegal and any force used will be an assault by the police officer. This would need to be established in court but you would not succeed if the police officer did find drugs or other illegal items when they searched you.”
A general search is when an officer pats down your clothing and pockets on the outside. They may require you to remove your hat, jacket, gloves, and socks.
A strip search is when you are required to remove any more items than these. During a strip search, an officer may look into your underwear or under a woman’s bra. If you are strip-searched, it should be done in a private area and police are never allowed to conduct a cavity search.
Tips to get through a strip search
- Be polite: Be polite and respectful. No police officer has the right to hurt you or treat you roughly, even if you are rude. However, there is no need to make the situation worse than it has to be. Being respectful will also help with the next step.
- Ask the officer’s name and station: This will help keep everything above board for both you and the officer.
- Ask why you are being searched: Once you have the officer’s name, politely ask exactly why you are being searched. The police are required to give you an answer.
- You can bring a friend: You are allowed to bring someone with you to witness the search if you wish.
- If you are a minor (10-17 years old), police require a parent or guardian present. Police cannot strip search anyone under 10 but if you are 10-17 a support person is required. This protects you and the police. However, the police do have an ‘opt-out’ option if they believe the support person might dispose of or destroy the drugs.
If you have been strip-searched, it is advisable to seek legal counsel as soon as possible. It could be that the search was illegal and a legal representative can help you to defend your rights. The Australian Criminal Law Group are an excellent place to start.
What happens when you’re caught with drugs at a festival and what to do if you’re arrested
Being arrested can be a frightening and distressing experience. Do your best to stay calm, polite, and cooperative.
The police have a right to use ‘reasonable force’ to arrest someone so be careful when dealing with the police.
What the police will do
The police have three steps they must legally complete every time they make an arrest:
- They must prove they are a police officer (a uniform is considered proof enough but a plain-clothed officer needs to show identification).
- The police officer must tell you their name and the name of their station.
- They must tell you why you are being arrested.
Don’t get confused by the ‘Miranda Rights’, (‘You have the right to remain silent…’) that you see on American television and movies. This does not apply to Australian police officers. However, you do have rights when under arrest:
- The right to remain silent: The main exception is that, under some circumstances, you are required to tell them your name and address, although this mostly applies to motor vehicle-related arrests.
- You have the right to a lawyer and to have them present: Once arrested, you are entitled to a lawyer and for police to hold out on going further until your lawyer is present.
- The right to an interpreter: If English is your second language, you don’t speak it at all or you use sign language, you have the right to have an interpreter present.
- You have the right to medical attention: If you have been hurt in any way, the police must ensure your injuries are adequately treated.
Caught with drugs at a festival: What not to do
Don’t get angry and shout or fight or swear as this puts you at risk of additional charges. Stay polite and cooperative at all times.
Don’t answer questions until you have legal representation. Politely ask for a lawyer and wait for them to arrive. Your lawyer will make sure you don’t say anything you shouldn’t. He or she will help you answer the police’s questions. They will also help with applying for bail or any other legal processes that you may come up against.
The legal process after you are charged
Caught with drugs at a festival? If you are charged with a drug-related offence there will be a process to follow. Here is what you will need to do and some of the areas where your lawyer will help
- Find a lawyer: Finding a good lawyer is vital. A good lawyer will do almost everything for you. Their job is to get the best result possible for you, so choose carefully.
- Meet with them and discuss your options: Spend time with your lawyer talking through your situation. Make sure to listen to what they have to say.
- Tell your lawyer everything that you can, within reason. Be honest but keep to the facts and the relevant details.
- Decide on the best approach: Work with your lawyer and figure out what is the best way to proceed. A good lawyer will use their know-how to get you the best result. They’ll recommend whether you should fight the charges or whether you should just cop the penalties.
- Your Lawyer will deal with all of the legal processes and paperwork.
- You will need to gather your own character references and make sure you confirm your court dates and attend when you are required. You can read about references here; however, it is best to have your lawyer go over the references before because a bad reference can be the difference between having no conviction recorded and a criminal record.
Caught with drugs at a festival: Going to court
On the day of your court appearance, dress neatly and make sure you are there well before time. Judges will often respond better to well dressed and polite people.
A shirt and tie and dress pants is best for men. Conservative, semi-formal wear is best for women. It is not vital that you buy a new suit if you can’t afford it, just make sure you are dressed neatly and conservatively. Avoid wearing anything ripped or revealing. Certainly leave clothing with offensive logos or slogans at home.
What your court appearance involves
You will need to wait patiently until your case is called.
Mostly, your lawyer and the prosecution will make submissions about you, what happened, and what outcomes they want to see with the magistrate or judge. You may be called to swear in and answer questions. Do so honestly and clearly but don’t offer information beyond what you are asked about.
You will need to stand and bow your head for the magistrate or judge and will be expected to be quiet and respectful. Follow your lawyer’s lead and be polite at all times.
Caught with drugs: Different pleas
Your lawyer will help you choose what plea to make.
Find a good criminal lawyer to represent you
If you are in trouble and need advice after being caught with drugs at a festival, call the Australian Criminal Law Group.
Our experienced team will guide you towards the best legal representation for you and answer any questions you may have. Head to the contact us page here for all the help you need.