What Would You Do if Police Stopped You at a Summer Festival - Wisconsin Criminal Defense Lawyers

By Carlos Gamino

Summer is here, and that means festival season. Whether a small, local block party or a multi-stage weekend event with dozens of bands, it’s a safe bet the police will be there to make sure everyone abides by the law. They’re there to make sure everyone parties safely. However, that doesn’t mean that they won’t stop you and ask you questions—or attempt to search you.

As Wisconsin criminal defense lawyers, we see people who have unnecessarily consented to searches very frequently—so here’s what you need to know.

Know Your Rights

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution says that you have a right as a citizen to freely go about your business unless police can show they had reason to believe you were engaged in criminal activity. Police can stop and question you for no reason. However, they don’t have to tell you they have no reason and that you are free to go. In fact, they don’t have to tell you anything at all… unless you ask.

We’ve all heard the Miranda warning on TV and in the movies. What you may not know is that you have the right to remain silent, and the right to not incriminate yourself, at all times. Your Miranda rights do not begin when you’re arrested. You can—and should—politely refuse to give police a statement without an attorney.

Police have a legal right to lie to you during an interview. Read that again: police can lie to you while questioning you. Additionally, they’ll only read you your Miranda rights if they arrest you and wish to use a statement you made after being arrested in court against you. Make no mistake, you have the right to remain silent before you’re arrested, and in fact, from the moment you’re stopped.

Politely Ask if You’re Being Detained

Aside from politely refusing to make a statement or answer questions, there is one question you can—and should—ask the officer who’s stopped you. Know it. Memorize it. Use it. Politely.

“Am I being detained, or am I free to go?”

If the officer tells you you’re being detained, politely ask to know why. Stay calm (easier said than done, as you’re probably going to be rattled. However, it’s important not to be combative at this point.) Be respectful, but be firm in stating you wish to know why you are being stopped and whether you are under arrest. This forces the officer to tell you exactly what is happening and whether you are a suspect in a crime.

You Do Not Have to Consent to a Search

Another important thing to know and remember is your Constitutional right to be free from unlawful search of your person and property.

Police do not have the right to search you without legal cause to do so, unless you give them that right. Make no mistake; if an officer is asking for permission to search you, he or she has no probable cause to do so under the law. If police have a legal right to search you, they will do it. They won’t ask.

Again, be polite but firm. “Officer, I’m not giving you consent to search my property.” Most cops will ask what you have to hide, or say something similar, to try to get you talking. Don’t forget that you still have the right to remain silent. You don’t have to—and should not—answer this or any other questions.


  • Know your rights.
  • Be polite but firm.
  • Do not consent to a search.
  • Ask if you are free to go. If the answer is yes, GO!
  • If you are detained or arrested, politely decline to speak without a lawyer.

Talk to a Milwaukee Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you need to talk to a Wisconsin criminal defense lawyer, call us at 414-383-6700. Our phones are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—we’re here if you need us. If it’s easier, contact us online. We’ll evaluate your situation and give you case-specific legal advice when you need it.

Carlos Gamino