Party hard, but safely
The Mardi Gras festivities are in full swing. But even the best-laid plans can go awry. Lawyer Nicholas Stewart offers some essential tips to having a great night out.
So it’s party time for our community once again: the parade is almost here, and the official after-party, Mardigrasland, is set to go off. But, to paraphrase Robert Burns, the best-laid plans of mice and men go often awry. Here three important tips for partygoers this Mardi Gras.
Be careful with strangers
In recent weeks we’ve read about an older guy preying on conked-out younger males in Sydney. The victims have found themselves in the alleged perpetrator’s company in the early hours of the morning. He allegedly offered them a lift home and sexually assaulted them while they were out of it. Reflecting on the situation, I thought to myself, what if he was hot? Would I still feel vilified? Would it still be a crime? My answer was conclusive: Yes on both counts.
So people like that are one thing to watch out for as you party hard and make your way home the next day. Of course, there are other snakes among us too, some of the more violent, anti-gay variety. Gay bashings still occur, and prosecutions of the criminals are often difficult and largely without success.
What to do: If you are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, stay in the company of your friends and keep your wits about you. If you feel threatened by violence, call the police.
Drug possession is a crime
Our community knows how to party, and the NSW Police is very conscious of this fact. It means our parties are often the subject of intense police surveillance.
While a lot of the time that gives us extra protection from the unsavoury guys, it also means our community runs the additional risk of being charged with drug possession, should particular community members take drugs when they party.
If you are approached by police at a party, keep in mind:
* NSW Police conduct is largely governed by the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) (the Act).
* Under the Act, a police officer may, without a warrant, stop, search and detain you, and anything in your possession or under your control, if the police officer suspects on reasonable grounds that, among other things, you have in your possession or under your control, a prohibited plant or a prohibited drug.
* ‘Reasonable grounds’ can usually be substantiated by police if a police sniffer dog sits down next to you or indicates to police that it has detected the smell of a prohibited substance on you. Reasonable grounds may also be proven should you appear intoxicated or under the influence of drugs.
* I generally advise clients that it’s best not to answer any police questions (other than your name, address and date of birth) until you have received legal advice. But, in the situation where:
(a) you have drugs generally in your possession, in your pockets, undies or socks for example; and
(b) a sniffer dog detects a smell on you; and
(c) police ask you if you are carrying drugs; then
You should admit to the possession.
* An admission like the one above makes you a more attractive candidate for leniency when it comes to court orders and sentencing but it also may mean you won’t be subjected to a strip search.
* You are not obliged to answer any other questions or sign any statements or documents until you receive legal advice.
If you are taken back to the police station, you have a right to contact a lawyer when you reach the police station.
Remember, we all go out to party with the best intentions yet sometimes things don’t go to plan. An incident with an adversary like a sexual assailant or violent gay-basher could ruin your night or even your life.
Similarly, being charged with drug possession could mean not only a depressing Mardi Gras, but a criminal record or even a custodial sentence. Three words come to mind: know your rights.