Arrested During SXSW? Here’s What You Need to Know

After a two-year absence, South by Southwest returns to Austin, March 11-20. Along with it comes hundreds of thousands visitors to our beautiful city.  Parties all day and all night for 10 straight days.  Social media types, influencers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians will fill the streets marketing their crafts and performing. Austin Police Department will be there, too, in order to make sure everybody stays safe and under control. 

Judging from the large APD presence on Sixth Street this last week for Mardi Gras, I believe there will be plenty of interaction between APD and SXSW attendees. The problem arises that sometimes the two don’t mix. There will he hundreds of arrests over the next week and a half ranging from public intoxication, drug possession, assault and driving while intoxicated. Many of Austin’s visitors will find themselves in the less-than-accommodating confines of our Travis County jail.  Below is a guide for those less fortunate partiers that may be unfamiliar with the process of getting into (and out of) trouble in Austin, and how knowing which lawyer to call can help you get back to enjoying SXSW, missing as little action as possible.

The Most Common Arrests That Occur in During SXSW

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI): Although not officially announced by APD, the “no refusal” policy will likely be in effect at some point during SXSW.  “No Refusal” refers to the policy of APD to actively pursue warrants for blood draws in cases where a DWI suspect refuses a breath test.  It is not illegal to refuse the breath or blood test in Texas like it is in other states. Several times each year APD announces planned “no refusal” initiatives, mostly on major holidays and events around town.  However, I have represented many individuals charged with DWI who have refused the breath or blood test, only to see the arresting officer get a search warrant during times not designated as “no refusal” weekends. Most of these arrests occur in the downtown area. You should not acquiesce to the DWI cops. Politely refuse to participate in the field sobriety tests designed for failure, and do not take the breath test. Let us fight the arrest, and the blood search warrant if one is acquired. 

Possession of Controlled Substance (POCS) and Possession of Marijuana (POM): Marijuana is still not legal in Texas.  Texas law differentiates between marijuana in the “flower” form and any other form like THC oil, edibles, or powder. The latter forms are all classified as controlled substances, and possession of any amount is a felony offense.  Vape pens, edibles, etc. are treated the same as cocaine, LSD, heroin, etc. Less than a gram, is a felony with a minimum of six months in a state jail facility.  If you have more than 1 and less than 4 grams, then it’s a third-degree felony. Weights beyond 4 grams of adulterated THC become even more serious. Although the Travis County District Attorney’s Office may choose not to prosecute the low level POCS cases, law enforcement can still arrest and charge them. Marijuana in the natural flower form is also prohibited in Texas. Possession of less than two ounces is a class B misdemeanor, and a conviction carries a maximum punishment of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine along with a six-month suspension of your driver’s license. It is not uncommon to see the open use of marijuana in Austin, particularly at SXSW. This doesn’t mean it is legal.  If a police officer sees you smoking weed, you will be detained -- but not necessarily arrested. The City of Austin has initiated “field release” citations for marijuana use.  Local law permits police officers to temporarily detain the suspect and issue a citation for POM that requires you to appear in court at a later date and be booked and released from jail at that time. You still need an attorney to represent you in court if charged with POM. Remember, the police still have the discretion to arrest you for POM in lieu of issuing a field release citation.

Public Intoxication (PI): If you or someone you know gets arrested for PI in Austin during SXSW, here are some things you’ll need to know:

  • PI is a class C misdemeanor in Texas. Class C misdemeanors are punishable by fine only (maximum $500). Although you will be arrested, there will be no jail time as a result of a first or second conviction.
  • There is no need for someone charged with PI to call a bail bondsman.  Once you go to jail, you’ll be held for a minimal amount of time and then released on your own recognizance.  When released, you will receive a court date. 
  • Most PI arrests occur in the downtown area and jurisdiction for those arrests lie with the Austin Community Court. I appear in front of this court regularly.  If you hire an attorney to represent you for your PI, it is likely you will not have to be present in court as long as your attorney attends for you.  This is ideal for those who don’t live here. 

What to Know About Jail Release

Attorneys in Austin can get you out of jail using the personal bond process. This process is unique to Austin and will not work for counties outside of Austin. A personal bond allows you to be released from jail without having to deposit money with the court or wasting money on hiring a bail bondsman to be released from jail after arrest. If you do not live in Travis County, you will need an attorney to facilitate your release from jail on a personal bond. Travis County Pre-trial Services manages personal bonds for the Travis County jail.  You must meet certain requirements to be approved for a personal bond. Such requirements include:

  • The seriousness of the offense committed
  • References (names and phone numbers) to vouch for your credibility and willingness to return to court, limited criminal history, and employment/student status

If you otherwise qualify, I can normally go to pretrial services immediately, waive magistration so you do not have to wait to see a judge, and post the personal bond to get you released from jail.  Personal bonds can be useful for all kinds of cases except Class C misdemeanors like PI or DUI where no bond is necessary for you to be released.  Individuals arrested for DWI, POCS, POM, or assault are generally eligible for personal bonds. 

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