Published July 20, 2018 by Rebecca Wade

Waves are rolling, sand is between your toes, but a police officer is blocking your attempt to get some vitamin sea. With summer beach season at high tide, a recent viral video of an altercation between a beachgoer and police raises questions about alcohol, the beach and your rights.

Alcohol is not allowed on most beaches in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, but that doesn’t stop many people from imbibing. The confrontation between the 20-year woman and police in the video started when authorities suspected her of underage drinking. It escalated into a violent arrest after she submitted to a breathalyzer but refused to provide her last name. While hopefully these situations don’t recur, the questions remain: what were her rights, and yours, when police want answers?

Rebecca Wade, criminal defense attorney at Wade, Grimes, Friedman, Meinken & Leischner, says it’s vital to know your options, at the beach or anywhere, when 5-0 wants 4-1-1.

Questions about Police Questions

Wade explains there’s a difference between what’s called ‘consensual encounters,’–when police walk up and start talking to anyone at the beach, and when authorities have ‘reasonable articulable suspicion’ to stop you.

“If this an instance where you’ve been seized by the police, and they are conducting some kind of ‘investigatory detention,’ if you don’t want to talk to them and you don’t want to engage with the police, the first thing you can do is politely ask them if you’re free to go,” says Wade. “If they say yes, then leave and remove yourself from the situation.” If you’re not free to go, Wade suggests you tell the officer you don’t want to answer any more questions without a lawyer.

That said, Wade suggests you provide your name, if you are asked for it. By not providing your name, authorities could believe there are warrants for your arrest, or other problems. It can escalate the situation, and make the officer suspicious,” says Wade. “Pick and choose your battles,” says Wade. “If you start fighting with a police officer, you’re going to get tazed and ultimately lose that battle.”

On the other hand, one thing you can decline a police office is the field sobriety test, advises Wade. If you are at the point where they are making you take a field sobriety test, you are likely getting arrested either way. Declining it won’t indicate an admission of guilt, and this way you will have a defense later on in court.

So if you are on the beach, and happen to have an encounter with the police for whatever reason – the best thing for you to do is politely answer their questions and ask them if you’re free to go – because after all you came there to have fun! Happy Summer or whatever is left of it.