Eleven Tips to Stay Safe and Avoid Arrest at SXSW
Spring Break is upon us in the Austin area! During the coming week, we'll see tons of college students and families traveling away from their Heart of Texas homes, only to be replaced an incoming swarm of excited festival attendees from all around the world. They come mostly for the music, reveling in the new-band showcases of South By Southwest Music Festival (SXSW), but there's so much more to do and see. Austin is a warm and welcoming town; the crowds boost our local economy; festival-goers spend the next year telling the world about "Austin cool". Despite the road closings and other inconveniences, most of us are more than happy to share our beloved city with these generally well-meaning out-of-towners.
SXSW began as a small music festival, but its expansion has established several other educational, networking, and entertainment opportunities. Austin now actually hosts FIVE interlinked SXSW festivals: Interactive Technologies, Music, Film, Gaming and Comedy. Venues across town will fill with thousands of revelers anticipating our unique Central Texas hospitality and everything our Austin area restaurants...bars...hotels...convention centers...AND, finally, nighclubs have to offer.
Unfortunately, at any gathering where folks are consuming alcohol and other mind-altering substances, you'll see substantial number of arrests arising from the celebrations. Attorney Russ Hunt, Jr. has represented many clients--both Austinites and out-of-towners--charged with crimes at SXSW and other music festivals. While simple "public intoxication" arrests come to mind, charges can actually range from the mundane to the horrific. While we hope that this year's festival is enjoyable and safe for everyone, we're providing a few tips here to keep you in front of the music and other fun, and away from the police station and those few festival-goers or local residents with bad intentions.
- Be aware on the road.
- In the days leading up to, during and after the festival, law enforcement will be out--en force--in areas surrounding the various SXSW festivals and directions north and south of downtown, up and down the Interstate 35 corridor.
- During SXSW, law enforcement monitors a huge slice of the metropolis surrounding downtown Austin. Even the suburban police in locales like Round Rock and San Marcos will be on high alert.
- A number of years ago, in Round Rock, I had a homeowner's disaster the week before SXSW, and had to find alternate lodging. Even a week before the shows started, my family and I struggled to find a hotel room farther south than Georgetown.
- To sum up, SXSW means that police from Wells Branch, Pflugerville, Round Rock and Georgetown to the north and Kyle, Buda and San Marcos to the south will all be more vigilant.
- Do NOT drink and drive. I repeat...Do NOT drink and drive.
- Austin is a large city with already-significant traffic issues. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an organization quite active in Texas and especially in our capital city, pushes the police to treat SXSW as "open season" for prophylactic DWI arrests.
- The Austin Police Department (APD) has a well-trained army of DWI specialists who run around town during DWI/DUI-prone periods (evening and early morning), gleefully performing a slew of sobriety tests on suspected drivers.
APD's unofficial slogan, as many Austinites have come to know, is: Never, EVER, give a suspected intoxicated driver the benefit of the doubt.
- If an officer has to choose between protecting the community and cutting a loopy driver some slack, they'll go with the "protecting part" every time.
- If there's any suspiction at all that you're intoxicated, no level of young, cute, wealthy, or even nice will dissuade Austin cops from an arrest.
Do NOT smoke marijuana and drive. No matter what you've heard, your "relaxation" after a blunt DOES NOT make you a better driver.
- For starters, you're not in Denver. Marijuana posession is not legal in Texas. That said, Austin is a pretty progressive town as far as Texas is concerned, and has largely decriminalized marijuana possession for personal use.
- Nonetheless, partaking of the reefer right before or while driving can cause a boatload of problems for you and your passengers.
- That distinct aroma of marijuana passing through your rolled-down window gives cops probable cause to detain an auto's driver (in this scenario, YOU) and test for signs of intoxication.
- The very same odor gives the cops enough probable cause to search your car.
- Even if you're not textbook "intoxicated" enough to be arrested, you can receive a ticket--or even shiny new bracelets--if you're holding a substantial amount of marijuana
- If the police find anything else illegal--no matter how unrelated to their intial reason for the search--it's bonus points for them, and lockup time for you.
- Don't even let your passengers smoke marijuana or do any other drugs in your car.
- If you're driving the car, the police will consider you to be in care, custody, and control of the drugs because you are in control of the car.
- Even if you don't partake of the drugs, you'll have a posession charge on your hands.
- If it's your car, the police will lawfully assume that it's your dope.
- Even if it's not your dope, if none of your passengers claim responsibility, your whole carload might just go to jail.
- In reference to #1 of Tip Three above, even if cops only notice a passenger misbehaving, it makes your vehicle fair game for a full search and troubling consequences.
- Obey traffic laws.
- Especially after midnight, well-caffeinated officers tune in like they're spotting quail. Your rolling through a stop sign slaps the big red bullseye on your back.
- Don't speed. Even if you're not intoxicated, other drivers may be.
- Some partiers learn too late that downtown Austin is configured on a grid. Newsflash: many downtown streets are one-way. The Heinekens always lie.
- Just turning onto a one-way street can cause an accident or catch the eye of late-night law enforcers.
- Driving tip for tourists: In Texas, you can turn right on a red light after a complete stop. Your stop should not extend into a crosswalk.
- Another driving tip: In Texas, you can turn left on a red light after you stop...but only if you are turning from a one-way street onto a one-way street.
- Failing to do either of the above is regarded as "blocking the box"...an activity that will invite a cop stop and potential arrest.
- (We hope this is a given, but..) if you get stopped by the police, be polite and respectful.
- On the other hand, even if police ask nicely, you DO NOT have to consent to a vehicle search.
- Even if you're squeaky-clean, you may have had passengers who dropped an illegal parting gift on the floorboard.
- If you refuse a search, police may puff up and threaten to call drug dogs to sniff the car. Don't fall for this tactic--unless the dog gets there within a very short period of time, the police have to let you go.
- If you're asked whether you have any illegal items in the car, don't say a word. Admitting to any contraband will simply call off the dogs and send you straight to jail.
- Despite assurances that they'll cut you some slack, confessing to illegal activity will just give the police what they've been waiting for--justification to arrest you and lock you up.
- Once again, again, Tip Three. If there is anything completely unrelated but nevertheless illegal in your car, the police will arrest you for it.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
- Potential danger can lie in the friendliest seeming watering holes--if you focus all of your attention on having a blast, you might easily lose track of your friends, your drink, your purse, your wallet or your location. Keep your eyes and ears open. Panicked screaming usually means something's wrong, whether it is coming from inside a building or in the street. Make your way to a safer place.
- If you lose sight of your drink, pour it out and get another one. Even beyond those horrifying date-rape scenarios, an unwittingly-drugged drinker can still land a DWI charge.
- Even if you know the lay of the land, downtown Austin's one-way streets can confuse others on the road. Watch out for wrong-way drivers.
- Listen to your gut. If you feel that you're in an uncomfortable situation, turn around and get out of there.
- Leave your handgun at home or in the hotel.
- When you carry a gun into Texas bars, clubs, or liquor stores, you're committing a felony.
- If you are arrested for DWI, and you're carrying a gun in your car, police will add an additional charge of unlawfully carrying a weapon and probably lose the gun to boot.
- Granted, Texas supports your right to carry a gun while traveling...but driving to and from a bar is not what we're talking about.
See our page HERE for more information regarding Texas laws regarding the unlawful carrying of handguns.
- Carry a current and valid driver's license, auto insurance card, and car registration.
- Police can even check your license, insurance and registration while you're parked.
- Simply driving without valid insurance invites a ticket. Don't let this simple thing slip, since a citation is a big, unnecessary pain.
- Police in Austin have equipment that can automatically scan multiple license plates and check their status by computer. Check to be sure that you don't have any unpaid tickets--otherwise, you might get a free insider's tour of the Austin jail.
- Before you go out, plan for the trip home.
- Do a pre-party huddle with your group to hash out an evening exit plan, with fall-back options in case one of you becomes dangerously intoxicated or is separated from the group.
- "Keep Austin Weird" may well describe our Austin area public transit system; on the off-chance you're stranded downtown in the wee hours, have taxi, bus, and train information handy.
- SXSW has an excellent page with links to various transit options HERE. These include:
- Lyft (No Uber in Austin!)
- City bikes
- Electric cabs
- If you ARE arrested, heed the advice of your fourth-grade teacher and zip your lips. Ask to speak to your lawyer before telling police anything. Always exercise your right to remain silent until you consult with an attorney.
The takeaway...at SXSW, the terms "fun" and "safe" don't have to be mutually exclusive.
I sincerely hope you find SXSW as amazing and memorable as I found music festivals like the "Monsters of Rock" when I was younger (I'm admitting it). Events like this can make for positive life experiences, suprising new friendships, bold new career moves, and yes, even...recording contracts! With a little common sense and a bit of foresight, you and your friends can avoid the expense, heartache and shame that can come from either end of a criminal situation during "South-By". Those of us living in and around Austin welcome you, and hope and expect you'll have the times of your lives. This wild and profoundly fun event is the very reason "Y'all come back now, ya hear?" is an unofficial Texas saying.
By the way, we hope you won't need us. But if you do, Russ Hunt, Jr. compassionately and effectively defends SXSW attendees charged with crimes in Williamson and Travis Counties.
Sometimes SXSW isn't just fun and games. Every year, a few festival-goers make mistakes, leaving with the unwelcome souvenir of a criminal charge. If you or a friend is dealing with a criminal charge resulting from an ill-fated night on the town, give Russ a call. Your initial consultation is always free and completely confidential, and will give you an actionable direction and better idea of the legal road ahead. As your hired attorney, he'll immediately push to gather the facts surrounding case against you and prepare the strongest legal options for your defense.
Mr. Hunt's practice benefits from deep experience in defense procedures and trials, intimate knowledge of criminal laws and procedures, and personal understanding of the factors that motivate our judges and prosecutors in state and federal courts across Williamson and Travis counties.More health and safety-related resources for festival-goers:
Here are some additional resources that will help to keep you safe at SXSW and other music festivals in Austin and around the world:
Top 10 safety tips for music festivals from the Australian govenment