Know Your Rights:

What to Do When the Cops Come to Your Party

By Felix Chrome

Before every punk show, zine release, or birthday party we plan, my whole house sits down to talk about the logistics, mostly what to do if a bunch of wasted randos show up or our neighbor calls the cops. Most recently, as soon as we sat down and opened our beers, the Party Intervention Patrol came up in our conversation. Even if you don’t host events at your house, chances are you or your friends have been talking about Thurston County’s crack down on fun (or underage drinking, or whatever). In light of this chatter, I thought it was time for a refresher on what to do if cops show up at a party. Here’s what I learned from legal rights organizations like the ACLU and some members of the National Lawyers Guild, who were patient enough to translate legalese into plain English.

1. Don’t Let Them In
You do not have to let police into your house if they do not have a warrant. This might seem pretty obvious, but cops are intimidating and people often find themselves forgetting their rights when a bunch of scary dudes with guns are outside. Instead, step outside, shut the door behind you, and see why they are there. If you are drunk and/or underage, send your soberest roommate over 21 (I suggest working this out ahead of time) to talk to the cops. If you’re not hosting the party, just quiet down (stop any music and don’t be stupidly rowdy) and chill inside, if it’s just a noise complaint, the cops will usually leave and then you can decide to go home or move on to the next party.

2. Don’t Talk to Them
If the cops are outside a house as you are walking away or standing outside, it is easy to think you’re already busted and have to talk to them. Don’t! These stops are legally the same as a cop randomly stopping you on the street. If you try to not engage and simply walk away and a cop hassles you, don’t volunteer any information, it can only hurt. I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times but remember the magic words: “Am I being detained? Am I free to go?” Even if you’re not breaking the law or are certain you’re clever enough to talk your way out of anything, don’t. Cops can use the information you give them against other people, even if it seems harmless at the time. Additionally, cops cannot detain you indefinitely without arresting you, which requires probable cause. If you have been detained for 15 or 20 minutes, ask if you are under arrest, if you are not under arrest once again ask “am I free to go?”

3. Check the Warrant
Cops can call a judge and get a search warrant if they come for a noise complaint and see evidence of underage drinking. This isn’t very common, but that’s what happened when the recent Books To Prisoners show was shut down. And the Party Intervention Patrol is going to keep shutting down parties. If you or your chosen friend/roommate goes outside to talk to the cops, or they knock and say they have a search warrant, do not let them in until they show it to you. Be sure to check all the information. A warrant must have your exact address, the correct date, and signatures by both a judge and the requesting officer. If any of this information is missing or wrong, tell the cops that the warrant is invalid and why. This does not mean that police will not search your house anyway, cops do illegal stuff all the time. Trying to stop cops from entering the house or otherwise obstructing them will probably cause you nothing but problems, regardless of the validity of their warrant, so is definitely not recommended. Instead, state loudly, clearly, and repeatedly, “I do not consent to this search.” You should say this even if the warrant looks fine to you.

4. Don’t Consent to a Breathalyzer
In Washington, you do not have take a breathalyzer test if you are not driving. The lawyers I spoke to were all pretty shocked that cops got people to take breath tests when they shut down the Books To Prisoners benefit, and one Washington lawyer who volunteered to answer more of my questions said he thought it was unconstitutional. To be arrested as a minor in possession, you have to either have an open container of alcohol in your hand or be visibly drunk. Don’t let cops trick you into incriminating yourself with a test, no matter what they say. Even once you have been arrested, you do not have to consent to a blood alcohol test. They need a warrant. Simply tell officers you want a lawyer, then shut up. If cops keep asking you questions, repeat that you are invoking your right to remain silent and you want a lawyer.