Five Legal Urban Myths People Should Stop Spreading

Spread the love

Not knowing your rights and not having any rights are the same thing. They are called your rights for a reason. Know them and use them.

Photo by: Curious Josh for Insomniac
The Festival Lawyer

This article is the most recently published piece by The Festival Lawyer. While it is adapted to attending music, sporting, and other type events, the content is universally applicable.

Many festivalgoers think that as long as they don’t break the law, they won’t get in legal trouble. But sometimes even law-abiding folks stumble into legal trouble simply by not understanding their legal rights or misunderstanding the law.

This often happens because people buy into and spread “legal urban myths”—statements that sound true but are completely, legally wrong. Here are the five most common legal urban myths I see being repeated on the Internet. Knowing the truth behind these urban myths can save you some serious legal headaches.

Legal Urban Myth #1: “If the police don’t read you your Miranda rights, your arrest is thrown out of court.”

Certain things look so cool on TV that they keep showing up in show after show. For example, a character sets off a giant explosion and just calmly walks away like it’s no big deal. I’d wager that 90 percent of crime shows end with a suspect in handcuffs, pushed against a police car by an officer dramatically reading, “You have the right to remain silent…anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”


TV shows treat the reading of Miranda rights as a kind of legal high-five for detectives when they get their suspect. Sure, it looks cool, but it leaves the false impression that Miranda rights are legally required to be given whenever someone is arrested.

What’s the Actual Law? Miranda rights don’t have anything to do with whether an arrest is legal or not.

Miranda rights are basically a warning police officers have to give you, telling you they are about to interrogate you. The Supreme Court handed down the original Miranda decision because they worried that questioning suspects in police custody leads to a high potential for coerced confessions or other police abuse.

To avoid abusive questionings, the Court defined one form of police questioning as “custodial interrogation.” This occurs whenever police question someone who is either under arrest or what the law calls the “functional equivalent of arrest.” Miranda rights are required to be read in any such situation. This means before any custodial interrogation, police have to remind people of their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and Sixth Amendment right to a lawyer.

If the police screw this up and don’t read your Miranda rights when they should, the arrest is still valid. The legal effect is that any statement you made will be tossed out of court.

What Festivalgoers Need to Know

I have written in prior articles about why it is never a good idea to talk to the police, especially without a lawyer. So really, you should know what to do whether or not the police read you your Miranda rights.

Bottom line: If you are EVER questioned by the police, do not give a statement. Instead, calmly and politely tell the officer, “I am choosing to remain silent. I want a lawyer.” Remember “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” It is your right to let your lawyer do the talking.

Legal Urban Myth #2: “If you ask an undercover officer if he is a cop, he has to tell you the truth.”

If you think about it for a second, you realize this myth can’t possibly be true. Criminals would merely have to ask, “Are you a cop?” and by law the officer would have to say, “Aw shucks, Mr. Violent Gangster, you got me. I’m an undercover cop trying to infiltrate your organization. Guess my cover is blown…No hard feelings?”

What’s the Actual Law? Police can completely lie to your face whether working undercover or not.

In fact, the law says that an undercover cop can lie to you about anything, including whether or not they are really a cop. Didn’t everybody see that Breaking Bad episode where Badger learns this the hard way?

What Festivalgoers Need to Know

Realizing that the police can lie to you is really important information for festies. I occasionally hear of some pretty borderline tactics being used by undercover cops at festivals, like cops aggressively asking for people to “help them out” in their search for drugs.

The beauty of the festival community is its open nature and willingness for strangers to help each other. Sometimes people think that this “pay it forward” mentality should extend to drugs. But from a legal standpoint, giving someone drugs or introducing them to someone who has drugs is legally the same as selling them drugs in most states.

In fact, the Washington Post talked about the unfairness of some of these aggressive undercover tactics in one of its editorials.

Bottom line: Never, under any circumstances, give, sell, or take a drug from a stranger. Never help someone find drugs. Taking drugs from strangers is medically dangerous. Giving them away is basically Russian roulette.

Legal Urban Myth #3: “Cops need a warrant to search your car.”

I blame Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” for this myth.

The second verse of the song is fictional but based on a true story. The cops want to search his car (loaded with cocaine), he refuses, they wait for drug-sniffing dogs that never show up, and Mr. Carter gets away with it. Jay-Z raps:

“Well, my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk and the back, and I know my rights so you gon’ need a warrant for that.”


What’s the Actual Law? Police only need “probable cause” to search a car.

The courts have defined an “automobile exception” to the normal requirement for a search warrant. Because cars can easily be moved to destroy evidence and are usually in a public place, the Supreme Court has ruled that you don’t have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” that would require a search warrant.

Although they don’t need a warrant, in most cases cops must have “probable cause” before they can search your car (unless you agree to it being searched). This could be the sight of drugs in plain view or the smell of pot coming from the interior. Police can also have a drug dog sniff around your car as long as they don’t detain you too long.

What Festivalgoers Need to Know

Sometimes, police officers will hide along the roads leading into a festival the same way bears will wait on the narrow spot of a creek where salmon swim upstream. Because of this, I recommend you take precautions to avoid attracting attention to yourself in these situations.

Electric Forest Car

Cops call vehicles with expired tags, broken tail lights, or some other obvious reason to stop them, “rolling probable cause.” Your goal is to never be rolling probable cause. Keep your car in running order, have your license and registration current, and maybe avoid those “Wakarusa or Bust” paintings on your car. Even if you aren’t doing anything illegal, don’t give police an easy reason to pull you over.

Bottom line: Keep a low profile, avoid being “rolling probable cause,” and NEVER consent to a search of your vehicle.

Legal Urban Myth #4: “Because medical marijuana is a ‘medicine,’ you have a ‘right’ to bring it into a festival.”

A lot of festivalgoers believe that if you live in a state where medical marijuana is legal, you have a right to bring it to a festival as long as you have your medical marijuana card with you.

What’s the Actual Law? Federal law says marijuana is a controlled substance.

Marijuana is still illegal and classified as a “Schedule I Controlled Substance” under federal law. Schedule I is the category reserved for our most dangerous drugs. To qualify, the drug must have “no currently accepted medical use” and a “high potential for abuse,” like heroin and methamphetamine.

That’s right. Legally speaking, federal law considers marijuana to be just as dangerous and prone to abuse and addiction as heroin.

Sink In

This puts medical marijuana usage into a legal grey area. For example, in California, a doctor can’t “prescribe” marijuana for you. The doctor can only make a “recommendation” that you may be in possession of certain amounts of marijuana necessary to treat a diagnosable medical condition. She can’t prescribe weed for you because the drug is by definition illegal under federal law.

Why does this matter for a festival? Well, every festival has the right to limit what you bring into the concert. Because marijuana is illegal under federal law, festivals have an absolute right to prohibit you from bringing it in. Some festivals have liberal smoking rules and just ask people to be respectful by not smoking around kids, for example. But for the most part, festivals have a strict “no medical marijuana” policy.

What Festivalgoers Need to Know

Like anything else, check the festival’s website before bringing anything questionable (glow sticks, totems, etc.) into the fest. Understand that for most states, a medical marijuana card gives you no “right” to bring pot into a festival. Instead, any rules about it are at the absolute discretion of the venue.

Legal Urban Myth #5: “If you are on private property and your ticket says you consent to a search, you have no legal rights at a music festival.”

This myth that festivals are “Fourth Amendment free zones,” like an airport, is almost universally believed and accepted. After all, it seems logical. Your ticket does say you agree to a search, right?

What’s the Actual Law? You actually have a lot more rights than you think.

When you first enter a festival, festivals have a right to conduct a reasonable search for weapons. Legally, this is probably okay, as long as you were previously told about the search and given the option to refuse the search by not entering the event.

What Festivalgoers Need to Know

When you first enter a festival, you basically agree to be searched at the initial checkpoint. However, once you are inside the festival grounds, your Fourth Amendment rights are no different than if you were walking down the street.

Legally, this is true even if the festival grounds you are walking into are private property. The owner of private property can absolutely bar your entrance or kick you out. But the owner can’t waive your Fourth Amendment rights for you.

Think of a situation where the police come to a house to break up a party. The owner of the house can let the police in to search the house. And the owner can absolutely kick people out of the house. But the owner can’t tell the police, “See my guest over there? Go ahead and search her without her permission.” That’s because Fourth Amendment rights belong to the person, not the landlord.

Festival Lawyer Tip

As always, I need to stress that I am a lawyer, but I am not your lawyer. I can’t give you specific legal advice because I don’t know your individual situation. However, I summarized your legal rights in a “Know Your Rights” infographic that could help you navigate any encounter with police.

Festival Lawyer Infogrpahic A Cop Stops You At A Festival

Final Tips

Probably the biggest myth of all is that somehow only people who intend to commit crimes need to know their rights. In fact, it is common sense to know what to do if you ever run into an overly aggressive cop or other bad legal situation. As I always say, “Not knowing your rights and not having any rights are the same thing.” They are called your rights for a reason. Know them and use them.

Spread the love
Sponsored Content:

About Matt Agorist

Matt Agorist is an honorably discharged veteran of the USMC and former intelligence operator directly tasked by the NSA. This prior experience gives him unique insight into the world of government corruption and the American police state. Agorist has been an independent journalist for over a decade and has been featured on mainstream networks around the world. Agorist is also the Editor at Large at the Free Thought Project. Follow @MattAgorist on Twitter, Steemit, and now on Minds.