As tens of thousands of electronic dance music fans converge on Raymond James Stadium’s north parking lot in Tampa to celebrate Memorial Day weekend, concertgoers should be prepared for an enormous law enforcement presence both inside and outside the gates. Although not all EDM aficionados dabble in controlled substances, the culture’s reputation combined with the overdose deaths of two young attendees last year forces the government to respond accordingly for 2017. Anticipate drug sniffing dogs, surveillance cameras, hundreds of police and security guards, and searches of your backpack and person upon entry.
If you or a friend are going, the obvious advice is to be smart and stay safe. That being said, I have represented multiple persons who have been arrested at Sunset Music Festival in previous years. Most of them have been college-aged kids who made foolish decisions and ended up spending the night in jail instead of at SMF. Here are some tips if you decide to go:
Although the city of Tampa does allow for the issuance of a civil citation for possession of marijuana, most people will not qualify and will be arrested instead. Why? The program’s guidelines state that, among other things, the suspect must qualify to be “released on recognizance.” It usually means that you need to be a local resident. So, if you live in Sarasota, Miami, Gainesville, Orlando, or Jacksonville you’re going to jail.
The program only applies to amounts less than twenty grams of weed, or about three quarters of an ounce. It can be used only for simple possession, not delivery or possession with intent to sell. Sharing with friends, having multiple baggies, or possession of drug paraphernalia (like scales), will cause the investigators to arrest you rather than fine you. But if you’re caught with marijuana, the most compelling reason why the police will handcuff you and transport you to Orient Road Jail is so they can search you for additional contraband.
The most commonly discovered controlled substances at Sunset Music Festival are MDMA (including the derivatives nicknamed molly or ecstasy) and LSD. Possession of these drugs is a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Selling MDMA increases the penalty to a maximum of fifteen years in prison, while possession of more than ten grams becomes the crime of trafficking in Phenethylamines; a conviction brings with it a mandatory term of three years in prison. Bail bond amounts start at $2000 per charge, and trafficking defendants are held without bond until they see a judge at first appearance either the next day (if you’re booked before midnight) or two days later. Traditional bond amounts for trafficking in MDMA begin at $50,000, and you may be required to prove the source of the money used to pay the bond (commonly referred to as a Nebbia hold).
In my experience, the biggest danger to SMF17 attendees are the undercover police officers from the Tampa Police Department, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, and other local agencies. They have three years of experience targeting this specific festival. They may not look like “typical cops,” and often sport beards or heavy tattoos. If you are in a group of people and they smell marijuana, they have the legal ability to search each and every person in the group and their possessions.
If you are arrested, do not give a statement to the police. Do not admit anything. They will not cut you a break. If your friend is arrested, do not interfere-you can be charged with obstructing the investigation. The best thing you can do is to call a friend or family member who is not at Sunset Music Festival to begin the process of getting them out of jail. For the college-aged crowd, do not be afraid to get the parents involved. Many bail bond companies require security, promissory notes, and a percentage of the total bond (known as the premium) up front to get someone out of jail. Don’t let your friend sit in jail any longer than necessary.
A local and aggressive criminal defense attorney should be contacted as soon as possible to facilitate the jail release process and discuss the options going forward. It’s not all doom and gloom; I have been able to get entire cases dismissed and records expunged for clients arrested at SMF in Tampa. As a Florida Bar board certified criminal trial lawyer I have the experience, skill, and reputation to properly counsel you or those close to you on the next step for prosecutions in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit. Feel free to contact me directly on my cell phone, 813.541.9504, for assistance over the holiday weekend.