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How to Not Get Arrested at ComFest

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Tips on how to avoid the slammer at ComFest from a Columbus Criminal Defense Attorney.

This weekend, Columbus plays host to ComFest, one of the largest community festivals in the state of Ohio. Since 1972 the Community Festival has maintained its status as a free, community festival open to the public. The event boasts food, drinks, art and live entertainment and is completely run by volunteers, working for the collective good of the community. Sounds pretty great right? Well, free entertainment can sometimes invite people who are looking to do more than just socialize and hear some music. Things can get crazy quickly. Hence the presence of the Columbus police force.

In recent years, the most common arrests have been the outcome of underage drinking and illegal drug use and arrests are plentiful. For instance, in 2013, police arrested 77 people during ComFest weekend and we all remember the fateful night in 2009 when an 18-year-old male stabbed himself to death at the festival after the illegal usage of LSD and marijuana.

One Columbus criminal defense attorney, Stephen Palmer of the law firm Yavitch and Palmer, has seen it all and has some tips for our Columbus Underground readers on how best to avoid an arrest, other fines and negative interactions with police officers this weekend.

1. Follow the Rules

First things first. ComFest has official rules, people. It may not seem very apparent with all of the fun. We couldn’t find any official rules for festival goers on the ComFest website, but we did find these safety rules in the volunteer handout:

  • ComFest encourages following all City, County, State and Federal Laws.
  • No riding bikes, skateboards, roller skates, or scooters unless it is a medical mobility device. All non-medical devices must be walked or carried while in the park.
  • No vending, distribution of arts, crafts, literature or petitioning except at an authorized booth space.
  • No unauthorized vehicles in the park. Authorized vehicles will have passes.
  • No unauthorized parking inside the park.
  • Look Down / Clean Up! Leave the park a cleaner place for everyone.
  • Have fun! Be Safe! Respect others, the park and yourself.
  • No Glass! (There are a lot of barefoot people out there.)
  • No Coolers Please. Don’t leave backpacks unattended.

2. You’re in public. Know your limits.

ComFest offers live musicians, comedians, improv shows, and the list goes on. And, it’s all for free. However, don’t think you can get away with anything because you don’t have to pay. Public event doesn’t mean “free-for-all”.

Law enforcement and undercover officers will be watching for common offenses including underage drinking, open container, drug possession, disorderly conduct, assault and more. Watch yourself and don’t lose control of your behavior.

3. Breathalyzers: will you be safe to drive home?

Don’t go crazy as soon as you walk out of the park. Be aware that you might encounter DUI checkpoints on your drive home. To refresh your memory, refusing to take a breathalyzer test can indicate that to a police officer you are guilty of operating a vehicle while impaired. Being convicted of an OVI can lead to serious charges such as major fines, license suspension, or even jail time. The best way to continue the fun safely is to take an Uber or a Taxi home.

4. If you are busted, keep calm and ComFest on

“If you are confronted by the police, don’t give them an excuse to continue detaining you, or to place you under arrest,” says Palmer. This means you should never be belligerent, rude or impatient. Take a deep breath. It is in your best interest remain as calm and cordial as possible even if police try to rattle you by speaking aggressively or threatening arrest or jail time.

5. Remember, the police are not your BFFs

It’s not necessary to tell them your entire life story. If you are nervous, don’t feel the need to get overly conversational. Even before your Miranda rights are read, remember that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. “Answer with ‘yes’ and ‘no’ if possible, but if a longer explanation is required, don’t offer up any more information than what’s needed,” says Palmer.

6. Respect authority, the police are there to protect you

Even though police are there to keep the peace, sometimes their presence can create an atmosphere of control that festival-goers may feel the need to rebel against. Keep in mind that there are a lot more of you than there are of them. As a result, police can be on edge when dealing with a serious situation. So it’s a good idea to respect their space.

If you see the police questioning, restraining, or arresting someone, make sure to keep your distance. Getting too close or approaching too them quickly may give an officer the idea you’re coming to the suspect’s aid, and you may end up getting yourself in trouble. It can be rattling if the subject is a good friend or family member, but it’s best to separate yourself so you don’t appear intrusive or aggressive.

7. Don’t say a thing without a lawyer present.

Unless you want to incriminate yourself, giving a statement without legal counsel is not your best choice. Ask to speak with a lawyer before giving an official statement. Be persistent about this, as the officer might try to dissuade you from doing so.

Thanks to Stephen Palmer for serving as a source for this story. If you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime at a ComFest this weekend, contact him at 614-224-6142 and the criminal defense attorneys at Yavitch and Palmer will investigate every detail of your case to see if they can get your charges reduced, or even completely thrown out.

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