by Rage the Bear
This provides some information about your basic rights if you are stopped by the police or other authorities, on the playa or off. It is not a substitute for legal advice.
When an officer stops you, he or she may search you either if (i) you give consent or (ii) the officer has probable cause that you have committed a crime. Officers are trained to elicit consent with forceful statements like “I need to take a look in there.” And consent may be given even when it might sound like a no, like “I’m not sure that’s OK.” You must give a clear and definitive statement. The easiest is “I do not consent to any search or seizure.”
To obtain probable cause to search you, your property, or camp, an officer must have articulable facts that lead to more than a hunch that you have committed a crime. For example, using a water pipe in the open is enough for probable cause (don’t do this).
When stopped by an officer, you must provide ID or your name as it appears on your ID. Beyond that, you do not need to answer an officer’s questions. Period. Either an officer has probable cause to search you or not. By answering questions, your answers may subject yourself to a search.
If you’d like to leave while interacting with an officer, simply ask “Sir/ma’am, am I free to leave?” If the officer says yes, calmly walk away. If the officer says no, you are being detained or are under arrest. If detained, simply repeat the first question until you are free to go and then calmly leave.
If you are under arrest, politely tell the officer you are invoking your right to remain silent, that you’d like to speak with a lawyer, and then shut the hell up!
On his way in to Black Rock City last year, the author and his partner were detained for an unlit license plate obscured by a bike rack. They were kept waiting long after their license and registration had checked out. Rage postulates they were calling for dogs. It came out they were law students. The officer waved them on. Rage took the bar exam in July.