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How to Avoid Getting Busted
And What to Do if You Are
Authorship unknown
Aug 31, 2000
Originally published on The Cannabis Information Network
Note that this document formerly had authors listed as "Dan Viets, Attorney; Northeast NORML; Bryan Peretto, C.I.N.", however we have been informed that that is incorrect. Erowid now considers this piece to be of unknown authorship.
  • How to Avoid Being Busted

  • Smoking in Your Car.

  • What to Do if you're Stopped?

  • What to Do if you're Arrested?

  • Most of us realize that the laws prohibiting marijuana use for medicinal and recreation purposes are misguided. However, no matter how unjust the law is, we must be careful to avoid arrest.

    It's very easy to get arrested on marijuana charges. It's equally easy to avoid getting busted. So let's all smarten up and avoid jail time by reading the tips below.

    How to Avoid Being Busted

    Back in college, people used to tell me that I smoked weed like it was legal. "Weed is legal in my mind," I used to say. I would smoke a bowl on the campus road on the way to lunch or coming back from a friend's dorm. As time went by, I became careless and that lead my arrest.

  • People Are Everywhere: Police can't be everywhere all the time but people are everywhere. You never know who is down with smoking and who's dialing the local fuzz from their cellphone. Police thrive on snitches. Around 1996, CT Police were giving up to $250,000 to informants who led police to marijuana users, dealers, and growers.
  • Be Courteous: This may sound like something from a Boy Scout manual, but be courteous to the people around you. Some people may pass you by when you're smoking and not care. But if you encounter a mother with a little kid or perhaps older people with nothing better to do, they will call the cops. Leave people alone and they'll leave you alone.
  • Be Cool: If you do smoke in public, be cool. Don't parade around with a joint in your lips looking for attention. Even at a hemp freedom rally where lots of people are smoking, keep it down low. Don't go around wearing your High Times t-shirt or pot-leaf embroidered hemp hat.
  • What's that Smell?: Even if you hide from all the people "out there," remember that the funky smell travels and lingers. One of the most important things to do is get rid of the smoke. This is how I got busted. Be especially careful if you smoke in a dorm or apartment complex. Some methods to combat smoke are blow tubes, incense, air spray, ionizers, exhaust fans (that don't blow out to the sidewalk), and others.
    Running water, especially aquariums and table fountains produce negative ions which help eliminate odors. Ozium spray is a great air sanitizer and can be found at headshops and auto stores as car air fresheners. Try to cover cracks in walls and the space under doors which may lead to neighbors.
  • Hey, Look at That: Smelling marijuana smoke is not grounds for arrest, but it can lead to a visual search. Do not leave bongs, pipes, herb, empty or unused baggies, ashtrays, seeds, stems, lighters, scales, pictures, or even paper money on display. Any of these things can warrant a more detailed search in which the cops will rip apart everything you own looking for a stash, plants, even paper or computer notes about your practices. Although they're very cool, posters of marijuana plants and related things can also arouse suspicion.
  • Dealer Beware: Intent to sell often gets you a stiffer penalty even if you never sold marijuana. Things like baggies, scales, and even money can lead cops, judges, and juries to believe you're a dealer. Always keep all of your weed in one bag. If you are going out, take what you will use in a separate bag. If there's any left over when you return, add it to the original bag. It's better to carry less than an ounce when you are in public. If you get stopped, you'll be in less trouble.
  • Know Your Laws: Mandatory Minimum sentences have been set for certain circumstances and areas. For example, possession of drugs within a certain amount of feet from a school can carry a severe punishment. 100 kilos or 100 plants will net you 5 years in jail. If you possess a gun during a drug offense, you will receive an additional mandatory 5 years in jail. If you're a felons in possession of a gun, you'll get 15 additional years. Stay away from zero tolerance areas. These radicals will do anything to put you in jail.
  • It's Not Garbage: Never put anything incriminating into the trash: Various courts have ruled that law enforcement officers are allowed to rummage through curbside trash bags without a warrant. A few seeds or stems can then be used as a basis for obtaining a warrant to search the individual's home.
    In fact, anything discarded into the public domain can be picked up by the police and used as evidence. For example, if an individual throws an illicit substance out of his or her car window and a police officer sees it and picks it up, the person is almost certain to be arrested. When we were pulled over in Long Island after Furthur Fest, the cops (there where two cars full of them) told us to throw any drugs we had out the window because they were bringing drug sniffing dogs to search the car. This was obviously a way around having to get a warrant to search our car.

    Smoking in Your Car

    1. If you have the option, smoke marijuana in the privacy of your home rather than on the road. When driving, you are more visible and have less protection against search and seizure.
    2. Never keep drugs in the glove box of your car. The second thing an officer wants to see, after a driver's license, is vehicle registration, which is usually kept in the glove box. The officer's eyes and flashlight will often inspect the glove box as it is opened, and he'll be looking for drugs.
    3. Do not leave roaches in your car's ashtray. If open, this is one of the first places any officer will look if he suspects that you are a drug user.
    4. Do not keep any marijuana or paraphernalia in open view in a car. This includes feathered roach clips people like to hand from their rear view mirror. The feathers are noticeable before the car is stopped, and could play a role in the decision to stop you. The clip would be sufficient to provide probable cause to search for illegal contraband. Some cops like to collect the feathers on their office walls.
    5. When driving, be concerned about the appearance of your eyes, the smell of your breath and the smoke inside your car. Letting an officer suspect you are stoned will give him grounds for an arrest for driving under the influence.
    6. While driving, carry drugs in something like a suitcase, briefcase, backpack or sealed carton. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled a person has the right to the same privacy with the items in a car as he does at home. They cannot be opened without a search warrant, even after arrest.
    7. Another good place to keep drugs is inside a common object that most people would never suspect of being a container for drugs, like a toothbrush case, a soap case or a make-up compact. This common object inside a suitcase would be even better.
    8. Avoid carrying marijuana in a car or in public if you are drinking. The breath and lack of coordination of a person drinking alcohol is noticeable, and may catch the attention of police.
    9. When carrying marijuana in a car, obey all traffic laws to avoid being stopped by police. Don't speed, run stop signs, or weave in the road.
    10. Make sure all headlights, taillights, brake lights and signal lights on your car are in working order. Carrying marijuana in a car with a busted headlight is a good way for being arrested for violation of a light law and possession of marijuana.
    11. Your license plate and other local requirements, such as inspection stickers, should be up to date to avoid any untimely traffic stops.
    12. If you are in possession of marijuana in public while intoxicated, be careful not to appear that way.
    13. While in possession of marijuana, avoid any potential disturbance of the peace, or other situations that police could be called to resolve.
    14. Never carry marijuana into a place of business. If you are suspected of shoplifting, you could be subjected to a search.
    15. When in possession of marijuana, be polite to police officers. They consider attitude to be very important, and that would be no time to make a bad impression.
    16. Don't wear drug related messages on tee shirts or bumper stickers when carrying marijuana. It's not good advertising and could be construed as probably cause to suspect the presence of drugs.
    17. Keep all contraband and paraphernalia in one place, whether driving or at home. If you are ever searched you should have only one place to worry about.
    18. Know the weight limit that distinguishes between a felony and misdemeanor for marijuana possession in your state. Avoid carrying more than this amount. You will have a less severe sentence to worry about and police are more likely not to make an arrest on a misdemeanor violation.
    19. Avoid carrying more than one bag of marijuana. If you are arrested for two small bags of pot, you can be charge with possession for resale (a felony), even if the combined weight of the bags is within the range of a misdemeanor. Also, avoid carrying more than one type of drug. If busted, it would mean two charges instead of one.
    20. Avoid carrying weapons or other potentially illegal items where they can be observed when in possession of marijuana. An officer who spots your weapon will have probable cause to search further, and may find your marijuana.
    21. Never throw drugs or paraphernalia out the window. Anything discarded into the public domain can be picked up by the police and used as evidence without the need to get a search warrant.
    22. When going out, carry only what marijuana you need. A small amount is easier to conceal, and if busted, it will put you in a better bargaining position.
    23. Never give police consent to search if you are carrying marijuana. If they ask you for permission to search, it usually means they realize that they don't have a right to make the search without your consent. Many attorneys advise not to give consent, even if you are clean. It is a bad precedent.
    24. Even in the privacy of your own home, avoid leaving roaches in ashtrays or other bits of evidence in open view.
    25. In deciding where to keep your stash, consider that, if you are arrested, police have the right to search the area in which you can "reach, jump, or crawl" without a search warrant, even in the privacy of your home.

    What to Do if You're Stopped?

    Never consent to a search. Most individuals arrested on marijuana charges could have avoided the arrest by exercising their Fourth Amendment rights. If a law enforcement officer asks permission to search, it is usually because :

    1. There is not enough evidence to obtain a search warrant
    2. The officer does not feel like going through the hassle of obtaining a search warrant.

    Law enforcement officers are trained to intimidate people into consenting to searches. If an individual does consent, the officer can -and will- conduct a search without a warrant. If the officer finds any contraband, the person will be arrested. Moreover, the validity of the evidence will almost definitely hold up in court ( The recent Alaska and Ohio court rulings are exceptions to the rule.) because consenting to a search essentially amounts to handing the evidence to the officer and saying, "Here it is, arrest me."

    If an individual does not consent, the officer must either release the person or detain the person and attempt to get a warrant. The fact that an individual refuses to consent does not give the officer grounds to obtain a warrant. The individual should politely say:

    "I do not consent to a search of my person, belongings, home, or vehicle. I retain my Fourth Amendment right and all other rights under the United States Constitution. I will say nothing until my attorney is present."

    If the officer conducts a search anyway- without a warrant- any contraband discovered will likely be declared invalid evidence by the judge and any charges will probably be dropped. If the officer does attempt to get a warrant and is successful in doing so, any contraband discovered may still be excluded as evidence if the individual's lawyer can convince the judge that the warrant itself was invalid-which, in many cases, it is.

    IMPORTANT: No matter what a law enforcement officer threatens or promises, it is always better to refuse to consent to a search.

    Do not stick around any longer than is required: From the time a law enforcement officer approaches, it is wise to remain calm and not arouse suspicion. Nevertheless, individuals should always find out if the officer requires them to stay; if not, they should explain that they are in a hurry, then leave.

    Law enforcement officers are trained to create the impression that their suspects are obliged to stay. Individuals being questioned by an officer should simply say:

    "Am I under arrest or otherwise detained? If not, I really need to get going. Have a nice day."

    Do not be hostile; do not physically resist: Some law enforcement officers do not care about citizens' rights; sometimes, the suspect is caught red-handed; other times, there are special-case qualifiers to certain rights, or there are loopholes beyond the scope of discussion in this publication. In any case, there are times when individuals politely assert their rights and refuse to talk or give consent, but the officers disregard their wishes and proceed to detain, search, or arrest them.

    In such cases, it is important to keep in mind that law enforcement officers have clubs, mace, handcuffs, guns, back-up, and usually the trust of the court. Aggression against the officers can make matters far worse. This does not mean that individuals facing such circumstances should give up all rights. Sometimes it is best to simply say, "Do what you feel you must; I will not physically resist. However, I do not consent to this."

    What to Do if You're Busted?

    You Have the Right to Remain Silent. This phrase has been so overused that it has lost its meaning. Whether arrested or not, individuals should always exercise the right to remain silent. Anything a person says to law enforcement officers, reporters, cellmates, or even their friends can, and probably will, be used as evidence against them.

    Never NEVER consent to dictating a written statement. This is a process in which the detective will ask you simple, seemingly harmless, questions and then type your response with it. They might entice you to cooperate by saying the answers will be "in your words." Don't play this game! The only thing this is is a written confession which will make its next appearance on a judge's bench.

    Get An Attorney! Individuals have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. Only a qualified attorney can ensure that the suspect or defendant does not say anything damaging. The right to remain silent should always be exercised. Yes, attorneys are costly and slimy, but they know the system and they know how to keep you from getting into more trouble than you already are. A detective might say something like "we can have a nice talk now, but if you want to call a lawyer, we'll just put you in a jail cell until the judge will see you." Sooner or later you're going to end up in a holding cell anyways- having an attorney will ensure you spend the least amount of time in jail.

    Do not be a snitch: The police and prosecutors often try to pressure individuals into providing information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of others. They will tell you that if you help lead them to a dealer, you will get a reduced sentence. Helping the police in any way can not and will not affect the court's decisions. Threats and promises by police and prosecutors should be viewed with caution and skepticism. If you think helping the police will help your case, at least consult an attorney first.

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