Your college experience is bound to include a few games, music shows, festivals, maybe even a road trip. All of these events will be staffed by police and security guards who will probably treat you and your friends fine and keep you safe. However, there are many reasons why you may have a less than great encounter – some of them due to you and some of them due to the police. Legal Services for Students helps hundreds of students each year who've been ticketed or arrested while hanging out with friends. We want to help you avoid some of those same problems while having fun being a Longhorn. Here are some things to keep in mind:
What Can I Take? If you're not 21, you can't possess or be near alcohol. Being in possession of alcohol only requires that you be easily able to reach the booze, not that you actually be holding it or drinking it at the time the officer sees you. Riding in an SUV or truck with alcohol in the backseat or inside of an ice chest would put a minor in possession. There must be a 21 year old in the car and all of the alcohol must be closed and locked inside of the trunk. You cannot take alcohol into the UT stadium or inside of any City of Austin park. Check with a music arena or festival site beforehand to learn if alcohol is allowed. Marijuana is NOT legal in Texas. There are no magic free zones or legal exceptions for students. Drug paraphernalia is also illegal and includes rolling papers, pipes, grinders, and roach clips.
Could I Be Stopped? Absolutely. An officer can stop a vehicle for any observed traffic violation including speeding, expired registration, a missing front license plate, swerving, or loud music. An officer is allowed to ask the driver to step out of the car while discussing the stop. If he has probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed, the officer may search the entire cabin on the vehicle including the back of an SUV and inside of ALL containers (purses, coolers, etc.) Probable cause can include things like odor of alcohol, odor of marijuana, ashes, lighters, cups, even chewing gum.
Can I Ignore Them? If an officer should stop your car or approach you in public, remember to start things off right and be polite. Say hello and look them directly in the eye. After that, you have the right to understand what they want. If the officer does not immediately tell you, politely ask them “Why am I being detained?” If he doesn't tell you, ask “Am I free to leave?” It is highly unlikely the cop will say “yes.” Instead, they will ask you a question and try to prolong the contact so that a judge would consider it a mutual conversation. Common police tactics include “why do you want to leave so bad if you've got nothing to hide” and “let me guess, you're a law student.” It is natural to feel awkward when talking to the police but you have the right to move along with your business if the officer does not tell you exactly why they have stopped you. If the officer doesn’t answer your question, or uses an avoidance tactic, politely say “If you are not detaining me, I am leaving. Thank you.” Then walk quickly away.
I Know My Miranda Rights! It is a myth of TV that you have to be read your rights by the police when they arrest you. That is not true. The police only must Mirandize you if they wish to start interrogating you and ordinary questioning by the side of the road or at an event generally doesn't rise to an interrogation. The first time most people in Texas hear their Miranda rights is after they've been arrested and are sitting in jail waiting for the judge to set their bond.
Can I Be Searched? Not without probable cause. However, it is more likely that they will ask you to let them search your items to prove your innocence. You never have to consent to a search of yourself or your vehicle. The best legal advice is to always refuse. If an officer asks to search your belongings, say “No, thank you.” If they persist in asking, politely but firmly say “I am not consenting to any search. Am I free to leave now?” This is unlikely to make the police officer very happy, but the officer wasn't making you very happy either, and fair is fair when you're standing up for your rights. This is also good advice if you are asked to perform sobriety tests or take a breath or blood test.
What About My Friends? Watching your friend be questioned by the police isn’t fun. Your behavior can help or hurt the situation. The best thing you can do for them is to remain quiet and stay still. If you believe that your friend is being unfairly treated and you are comfortable with doing so, you can use your phone to videotape or photograph the situation. Be careful that you are not interfering or ignoring police instructions to move away. If the officer asks you to stop photographing, you are not required to do so by law; HOWEVER, it may be best to stop in order to avoid aggravating the situation further.