In preparation for this year’s Halloween festivities, a Madison-area lawyer met with University of Wisconsin students and community members Wednesday evening to arm them with strategies for “surviving Freakfest.”
The annual “Know Your Rights Workshop,” co-sponsored by the UW American Civil Liberties Union Student Alliance and the UW Legal Studies Association, highlighted laws that pertain to student activities on campus with an emphasis on helping students avoid Freakfest legal altercations.
“The laws that we talk about here are ones that are particularly geared toward students, situations that may arise for them as a student and choosing what behaviors to engage in,” said Erik Guenther, a lawyer at the Madison law firm Hurley, Burish & Stanton. “It’s important that they have an appreciation of what the consequences are.”
Guenther focused primarily on the legal complications that result from drug use, sexual assault, battery, use of fake identification, underage drinking and house parties so students are aware of their legal rights and are able to interact with police responsibly.
In regard to house parties, Guenther said students can be fined for both dispensing liquor without a license and serving alcohol to minors, yielding a total fine of nearly $800 per underage person in attendance. In his experience as a lawyer, Guenther said he worked with a client whose house party received $440,000 in fines.
Guenther said students are not legally required to let police into their houses unless they grant them permission, they have a search warrant or illegal substances are in plain view. However, police can enter a house if they smell illegal substances like marijuana.
Guenther advised students who are planning on hosting house parties to remind their roommates and guests not to let police into their houses.
“You want to be in charge and also decide whether this particular guest is potentially worth $800 to you,” Guenther said.
Reginald Young, a UW freshman who attended the event as a member of the Pre-Law Society, said he was surprised to hear that it was possible to receive two separate tickets for one houseguest.
He added that he is not concerned about dealing with the police on Halloween.
Guenther added police are often trained with tactical strategies to persuade students to allow them entry into house parties and get them talking.
Other information Guenther said students should know is that they can legally refuse to be subjected to a Breathalyzer test and that sharing a joint is considered transfer of drugs, which is a felony.
One of the smartest strategies students can use to engage with police is to simply avoid talking to them, Guenther said.
“It’s very common for people to not know that they have the right to say ‘I choose not to talk,'” Guenther said.
Event organizer Steve Horn, social chair of UW’s Legal Studies Association and a Badger Herald columnist, said the workshop aims to provide students with information that is relevant to a university he said is well-known for its party culture.