It's 420: Know Your Rights on The Holidaze

Put down the Hot Pocket and FOCUS. Yes, we know that scene in Die Hard is about to come up, but this really can't wait. No, we don't want a hit. It's from Humboldt County? Then maybe later. Fine. And we'll look at that really cool cartoon in a bit, we promise! But for right now, please try to listen.

Good, you're paying attention. As you probably know -- or knew before waking and baking -- today is 4-20.

And as you probably also know, America's pot policy sucks. Sure, in New York, possession of under 25 grams gets considered a violation -- not a criminal offense -- but don't let that give you a sense of false security. Minor marijuana arrests have boomed under Mayor Mike Bloomberg: 50,680 New Yorkers got busted for bud in 2011. As noted by the Voice's Steven Thrasher, that's "just 587 arrests before the record holding year, when the Giuliani NYPD arrested 51,267 people for pot."

So, to help you navigate these nefarious weed waters -- and legally avoid arrest -- we've put together a brief guide to your civil rights.

Don't Leave Pot Out in The Open

Cops have to get a warrant before conducting "privacy-invading" searches. But, if you have an item in plain view -- such as a joint smoked publicly or a roach in an ashtray -- it can be confiscated and prompt an arrest and a search warrant for the rest of the area.

Don't Agree to Searches

Police might pressure you to voluntarily agree to a search. Don't do it. If a law enforcement officer has to get your permission, it's often because he doesn't have enough evidence for a warrant, or doesn't feel like getting a warrant. If you say 'no,' the officer has to let you go or detain you and get a warrant -- which he can only do by showing a judge or magistrate that a crime has been or is being committed.

Don't Talk

Shut the fuck up! No, seriously. Always remember your right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used as evidence against you -- just like on Law & Order! So keep quiet unless you've got a lawyer around.

Don't Stick Around if You Don't Have To

If you have an encounter with cops, you don't have to stick around unless you have clearly been detained or arrested. Can't tell? Then straight up ask. If they say that you are not detained or arrested, leave. If detained, officers can legally frisk you to check for weapons, but they can only go through your pockets if they feel something weapon-like.

Don't Be a Jerk

Sometimes, agents of the law can be jackasses and completely neglect your Constitutional rights. Cops might wrongly conduct searches, detain, or arrest you. When that happens, you shouldn't resist or be hostile. Just chill it out and reiterate your rights. You can always file a police misconduct complaint.

(Info obtained from NORML and NYCLU. Obvs, we're not lawyers, so use this as a general guide but seek an attorney if you need legal advice.)

Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.

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I can tell you- - with NYC,s stop and frisk program- -If the cops are in the mood or they need to fill up the van or quota  before they finish thier shift, you can forget all that good advise, you,re goin to MCC. 

Stopped on  125th & park (yeah,by the lee blg mdone klinic) they jumped outta the van ,grabbed me and pulled a small bag of weed outta my pocket. Before you can say grape ape, I was cuffed and thrown into the van .After driving around Spanish Harlem for 2 hours picking up others who had the misfortune of being in the line of fire , these scumbags took us downtown to MCC. Now sure the charges were dropped to low level disorderly person misdemeanors, but the fuckin hassle was unbelievable and unnecessary. Sitting in the bullpen for like 45 hours eating bologna sandwiches (or peanut butter-you had a choice) was not what I had planned when I went out that morning. For the poor bastards who had an outstanding warrants , this was the 1st stop on thier way to Rikers

File a complaint you say???- -Please, its just a waste of time. Besides I have to live here. 


Another good piece of advice... stay away from pot!


re: "If detained, officers can legally frisk you to check for weapons, but they can only go through your pockets if they feel something weapon-like."

-- Pretty sure its not just for weapon-like items, but for anything they suspect to be contraband by "plain feel".  Its primarily under the guise of "for the officer's safety" but...


cops. yuk.


Hey! Thanks for the feedback. Meant to be a very general rundown, specific line on NORML suggests weapon.

Thanks much for reading,



speaking as a lawyer, it is weapons specific, if it was as vague as contraband, the pigs could search everybody's pockets with impunity.........


The initial search is for weapons, but if in the course of searching for weapons he comes across the contraband.... (Forgive the wiki cite, but its a clear explanation of what i was referring to ('plain feel' doctrine)...

Pursuant to the “plain feel” doctrine, police may seize contraband discovered in the course of a frisk, but only if the contraband's identity is immediately apparent.  Writing for the Court in Minnesota v. Dickerson, Justice White stated:"If a police officer lawfully pats down a suspect’s outer clothing and feels an object whose contour or mass makes its identity immediately apparent, there has been no invasion of the suspect’s privacy beyond that already authorized by the officer’s search for weapons; if the object is contraband, its warrantless seizure would be justified by the same practical considerations that inhere in the plain-view context." (508 U.S. at 375–376)

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