Thinking of sneaking drugs into a festival?

Music Festival Byron Lawyer

Splendour In The Grass at Byron Bay is next week and Falls Music Festival has put tickets on sale for the Byron Bay New Years’ Eve music Festival, so it’s a timely reminder of your legal rights for police searches at festivals. .. and what to do if you’re ordered to appear at a local court.

The Ins and Outs of Festival Searches

If a sniffer dog sits next to me can the police search?


Sniffer dogs are a fact of life in today’s policing especially the upcoming Splendour Festival in Byron Bay in July.

You will more than likely find a designated area at the festival entrance where sniffer dogs are positioned and Police then supervise the animals to sniff the crowd.  Sniffer dogs are trained to detect evidence of drug use and/or possession.  Different animals are trained to provide different signals but the most common indicator is if it sits down next to you, or barks in your direction.

Sniffer dogs are NOT 100% accurate, they merely provide the police with reasonable suspicion, and therefore the grounds to search you or your clothing or bags etc.  The sniffer dogs attention is not evidence of drug use or possession.

Are Police allowed to search me at a music festival?

Police need “reasonable suspicion” to conduct a search of you and your belongings – this may come from the dog’s response, or your mannerisms including panic and nervous behaviour, even your physical appearance.

Most searches at these events are merely body searches where a police officer will ask for your consent to be searched which may include:-

  • Ask you remove hats, coats, jackets even shoes
  • Pat you down from head to toe
  • Inspect inside your mouth and/or hair
  • Inspect your belongings including pockets, backpacks and/or bags

Following this body search, a negative result will often find you are free to then proceed to enter the music festival.

If Police, however, believe there is a “seriousness and urgency” to further search you, they can request your consent to a strip search (you will be directed to remove some or all of your clothes).  This can only be undertaken in a private facility – usually a van at a festival designated for strip searches and can only be performed by an officer of the same gender as yourself.  Only officers of the same gender as yourself are permitted to be in attendance during this search.  Unfortunately this is only currently limited to male or female gender.  It is strongly recommended you have a support person attend the search with you – speak up and ensure you request this.  Strip searches cannot be performed on those under 18 or with a mental impairment, without a legal guardian.

Although a strip search means your naked (or partially naked) body is inspected, police are not allowed to touch you, insert fingers or anything else into your mouth or any body cavity.  You are not required to bend over.

What should I do if approached by Police to be searched?

Police Officers are generally required to seek your consent for a search.

Police are required to present identification of their authority to do so (uniform) and are required to provide you with their name as well as place of duty.  It is recommended you request this information if it is not provided to you and also ask what the grounds are for searching you.

It is highly recommended your behaviour remains courteous and respectful and note that resistance to searches can lead to other charges, even serious criminal charges.

In order to protect your rights to legally object (now or later) to the lawfulness of any searches it is important to stipulate that whilst you don’t consent to the search, and if they continue to search you anyway, cooperate.

After the search….

Should any searches reveal drugs, you may receive a “caution” from the Police.  This is totally at the discretion of the police and may occur if, for example, a search uncovers one or two pills or up to 15g of cannabis (generally considered for “personal use”).  They may chose, however to arrest you there and then even for one pill and more than likely for anything more than that.

What should I do if I am charged and ordered to appear at Court?

With evidence, the police may charge (without necessarily arresting) you in which case you will need to face a court at a later date.  They will provide you with a Court Attendance Notice (“CAN”) which will provide details of when and where you will need to face court and therefore a Magistrate to determine the charge and subsequent evidence and charges, if any.

Arresting you is a more serious option for the police and this may occur with evidence of large possession or your un-cooperativeness.  Should you become abusive during searches or questioning or simply if and when you may be handed a Court Attendance Notice they may choose to arrest you which means you are held in Police custody and either transported to a lock up or simply held in a police van.

Lastly, should you be charged and/or arrested, do not leave it too late to seek legal advice and/or representation.

A good result, in ANY court matter, is all about the preparation – and the more time you have, the better prepared you will be.  For example, you will need great references that support your submissions before your court attendance. Ideally 3 weeks prior to your court attendance you should find a lawyer, if that’s what you plan to do. If you plan to self-represent, start getting organized 3 weeks prior.

This is not legal advice, it is merely a resource to give you some guidance and general assistance.

If you need a Lawyer and want us to represent you, the Local Court Lawyers are experts in all local court matters. We come to you, anywhere in NSW, but our head office is on the north coast: Coffs HarbourGraftonMacLeanBallinaByron BayMullumbimbyMurwillumbah or Tweed local courts.

See What We Do as Local Court Lawyers


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