Coachella: Your Legal Guide

Coachella: Your Legal Guide

Going to Coachella? Understand how to deal with search requests, being frisked, being detained, and being arrested.

Coachella: an introduction

"Coachella is an annual event taking place near Palm Springs, California. The festival originated in 1993, when Pearl Jam performed at the Empire Polo Club while boycotting venues controlled by Ticketmaster. Their show validated the venue's viability for hosting large events, which ultimately lead to the first Coachella Music Festival being held in October 1999."

Key Things to Remember

  • Everyone is subject to search upon entry to the festival grounds.
  • Remember these magic words: "I am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer."
  • Always be calm and respectful when interacting with a police officer. If you believe your rights are being violated, clearly state that and then contest the officer’s actions in court.
  • Never consent to a search and seizure of your (or another’s!) body, possessions, car, tent, or campsite.
  • If a police officer sees it, they can seize it. Be sure to conceal all of your private possessions.
  • Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. Assert your right to have an attorney present before you give an officer any information other than your name.

Your Medical Marijuana Card Isn't Welcome

We know, you're highly stressful class schedule has earned you the legal right to purchase marijuana & edibles at any number of dispensaries. Because Coachella is a private event (hosted on private grounds), the festival organizers are allowed to set any rules they like about what is and is not allowed inside. Unfortunately, Coachella has made it very clear that you cannot legally bring medical marijuana into the festival.

Be Courteous and Non-Confrontational

On your way to burning man, or whilst partying on the polo field, police officers may stop you. Always be courteous and refer to the police as “Officer”.

Say: "Hello officer. Please can you tell me why I am being stopped?" They may say, "Why do you think I stopped you?" Tell the officer you don't know. You always have the right to have a lawyer present before answering a police officer’s questions (beyond your name/identification).

Do not apologize after you get stopped - this could later be used against you in court.

If you are pulled over in a car, turn your car off, roll down the window, and keep your hands on the steering wheel. Allow officers to see your hands. Don't reach into your glove compartment for your license and registration.

Your Identity

You may only be going by your festival name, but law enforcement can still inquire about your identity.

If there is a reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal involvement, you have to identify yourself with your real name, as displayed on your ID. Note that it may be useful to carry your ID anyway, as the beer tents, beer gardens, and VIP areas will require it before serving you alcohol. If you are a non-US citizen visiting on a visa, you could consider carrying your passport. A copy may be safer, but not all camps will accept it as a proof of age when serving alcohol.

Driving to Coachella


If you are operating a vehicle, you must provide ID when asked. Remain calm and quiet while the officer is reviewing your documents. If the officer writes you a ticket, accept it quietly and never complain. Listen to any instruction on paying the fine or contesting the ticket, and immediately leave. Tickets should be contested in traffic court, not in a face to face interaction with the police officer.

Say No to Search Requests

Never consent to a search of your person, car, camp or tent. Simply say: “Officer, I do not consent to a search.” Say no more, no less. You are under no obligation to consent to a search. Keep any private items that you don't want others to see out of sight. Police do not need a search warrant in order to confiscate any illegal items that are in plain view. The only reason an officer asks your permission is because he doesn't have enough evidence to search without your consent. If you consent to a search request you give up one of the most important constitutional rights you have: your Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Make sure EVERYONE in your camp knows these rules as well. Law enforcement can ask the other people in your car or camp for permission to search. Never consent to the search of anyone else’s property. You should all sing the same song: “I do not consent to a search.” Even if they threaten you with arrest, or threaten you with bringing a sniffing dog, continue to say “I do not consent to a search”. Even while they are searching you or your stuff, you guessed it, “I do not consent to a search”.

Being Frisked

When an officer has lawfully stopped you, they may proceed to pat down your outer clothing for the purposes of detecting concealed weapons that may pose a safety risk to the officer. This is called the “stop and frisk” exception to the warrant requirement. During the patdown, a police officer is allowed to seize any other evidence, such as a concealed drug container, that can be felt through your clothing.

If you find yourself in a “stop and frisk” situation there are a few things you can do.

  • Remain calm. Please try to remember that yelling at a police officer or posing any sort of additional threat to the officer will not help your case.
  • Keep asserting your rights. It’s always okay to continually keep stating that you did not consent to a search of your person. This can dramatically increase your chances of the evidence being thrown out in court.

Being Detained

If you’re being detained, questioned or otherwise restricted in your movements, ask the law enforcement agent whether you are free to go. Calmly keep asking “Am I free to go?” until you get to yes. As soon as you are told that you are free to go, walk away. If you are told that you are not free to go, ask whether you are being arrested. Unless they say yes, ask whether you’re free to go. Repeat as necessary.

Being Arrested

If you are being arrested (a good way to know is being told: “You are under arrest.”), or you think you have been arrested, immediately say the following: “Officer, I'd like to remain silent and I'd like to speak with a lawyer.” Then, contact a lawyer.

Do not physically resist a search or an arrest. You may state clearly but non-confrontationally: "Officer, I am not resisting arrest and I do not consent to any searches."

Do not volunteer any other information. You have nothing to gain. You may be told that cooperation will make things easier for you, and many people hope to be let off easy if they are honest and direct with the police. Do not let the threat of arrest scare you into admitting guilt. Don’t say anything to anyone but your lawyer. Now that you’ve invoked it, use your right to remain silent.

Warning: Undercover Police Officers

There will be undercover police officers at Coachella, so obey the law. If you have alcohol at your campsite, don’t give alcohol to anyone without asking for an ID to verify their age. If anyone asks you about drugs, remember: you don’t know about drugs, you don’t have drugs, you don’t use drugs and you certainly never supply drugs. Only at Coachella might you end up being arrested by an LED-clad fairy. Don’t let it happen to you.

coachella headdress

^ Is this person an undercover cop? We don't know - and neither will you! So be cautious!

Credit: Nanette Gonzales, source.

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