Skateboarding (despite what some slogans might tell you) is actually a crime in many places and situations. If you skate for long enough, you’ll undoubtedly run into some headaches. Maybe it’ll be a psycho making sure his bush is safe, or a security guard taking out their frustrations on you, eager to jam up your good time. All of these situations can be stressful and potentially result in your arrest, that is, if you don’t know your rights.
With that in mind, we tried to educate ourselves and made this little (not totally comprehensive) guide to dealing with such altercations, using our skate lawyer friend, Colin Commito, as expert legal counsel. Give it a read to brush up on what you should and shouldn’t do to stay one step ahead on the streets.
Mandatory annoying disclaimer: This guide is only relevant to our USA readers, law will change country to country. This is just a guide for educational and entertainment purposes, so please don’t try to sue us or something if your life goes horribly wrong. Thanks.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Is skating away from a cop illegal?
What should I say if the cops start asking questions?
Can I cuss at the cops?
Can the cops confiscate my shit?
Can I be handcuffed for skating?
Can I film a police encounter?
As a skateboarder, it’s easy to poke fun at the rent-a-cops across the world, but it ain’t exactly in your best interest to do so. Instead, treat a security guard as the person who failed the test to become a police officer. If you know how security guards think, then you should be able to effectively manage an encounter with them. They’re underpaid, overworked, looked down upon and consequently disgruntled. Try and see it from their side: Skateboarders are a nuisance, a complication that prevents the second bite of a newly microwaved pizza pocket. Here’s some helpful insights from our skate lawyer to keep you on the streets…
The short answer is yes, if you’ve committed an offense. Generally speaking, a security guard has the authority to arrest a person who (1) has committed a misdemeanor or felony offense in their presence, (2) has committed a felony not in their presence, or (3) when a felony has in fact been committed and the security guard has a “reasonable belief” that the person arrested committed the offense.
Most skateboarding offenses are infractions, governed by city municipal codes and punishable by a citation or ticket. These offenses are minor. But other skateboard related offenses can include destruction of private or governmental property and may constitute a misdemeanor or felony offense. These offenses are serious.
But always keep in mind that if a security guard arrests a skateboarder wrongfully, or uses more force than necessary to perform an arrest, he or she may be sued in civil court by the skateboarder for false imprisonment, false arrest, battery, excessive force or other torts. Business and property owners may be held liable for the illegal acts of their security guard employees.
Knowing that security guards are likely to be instructed by employers not to make an arrest, and are trained to call the police instead, it is truly up to the skateboarder to decide whether he or she will leave the spot without issue or unnecessarily escalate the situation.
Yes. 100%. As stated before, a security guard has infinitely less authority than a police officer and may be instructed to call one if things escalate. The key to avoiding this is to not even engage them. A security guard either wants to kick you out of the spot, give you a hard time, call the police to arrest you, and some might even be actively looking for a fight. Avoiding any of these alternatives is a good idea, especially if the security guard is armed and angry.
The simple rule: You wait around, you lose. Unless a police officer (a real one with a badge and gun and the authority of the city or state behind them) tells you not to leave, there is no offense for leaving the scene of an alleged offense (unless you were in a car accident). This does not mean that, having committed or not committed an offense, the police are not out looking for you or have secured a warrant for your arrest. So your best bet is to dip before they get a chance to talk to you. Sure, it’s going to look edgy in your next edit if you’re arguing with an angry pedestrian, but honestly, it’s probably worth it to not get arrested, so please, don’t wait around to see if you’re going to be pinched — especially on a weekend, where a jail stay can be longer.
It’s unfortunate that most of the world’s greatest skate spots are behind a fence or in front of a business. That puts skaters in the awkward position of having to sneak around like some kind of cat burgler stealing clips while the powers that be aren’t watching. But someone is always watching, and you’ll eventually get called out on your sneakiness. Here’s some more specifics from our skate lawyer…
The purpose of a “No Skateboarding” sign is designed to place a skateboarder on notice that he or she has no legal authority to skateboard on particular property. These signs are pretty hard to pass by, so playing dumb on this one is going to be tough to pull off.
Every state has passed trespass laws that criminalize “knowingly entering or remaining on property without legal authority to do so.” The term “knowingly,” means knowledge that you have no legal authority to be there. The “No Skateboarding” sign deprives a skateboarder of argument in court that, “I did not know I was not allowed to be on the property.”
Unfortunately, if there is no sign posted and the skateboarder has to crawl under or jump a fence to get to a particular spot, chances are a judge will disregard your argument that, “there was no sign posted.” If you cannot get in without jumping a fence, you most likely are not allowed to be there.
Once I got arrested with some friends for skating a famous ditch spot in the Inland Empire of California. This was obviously not good for my future legal career. However, it was an opportunity to put on a case in defense of the charges. So what did we do? My dear friend Mattie B went back to the “scene of the crime” and took pictures of the expansive ditch and the many open entrances to it, where there were no signs posted prohibiting our entrance. We presented this evidence to a San Bernardino County prosecutor, and the owner of the property did not even appear. Case dismissed. This tale ended on a positive note, but the moral of the story is that if you have to present a defense to a criminal charge, you have already lost in more ways than one. Do “No Skateboarding” signs matter? Yes.
Skateboarders are most likely to be told by security guards and private persons to leave a spot or they will call the police. Returning to a spot after being told to leave by a security guard or private person will rarely lead to a charge of trespassing because the skateboarder will most likely leave the spot before the police arrive at the scene.
If you are arrested by the police for returning to a skate spot after being told by a private person not to return, the person who told you to leave would have to credibly testify to that fact in open court. This requires determination on part of what we lawyers call the “complaining witness” or “complainant.” I have secured dismissals of trespassing charges where the complaining witness did not show up to testify. I have also seen complaining witnesses show up to court, eager to testify. You never know.
An important point: Security guards love to testify. It makes them feel like police officers. So it would be unwise to bet on a security guard not showing up to court as your defense to a trespassing charge in a court of law. Also, police officers are often paid overtime to appear in court. If a police officer tells you to leave a spot, heed the warning and leave because an officer will show up to court.
At the end of the day if you do get caught and do not comply, you could be charged with a misdemeanor offense. Generally, a misdemeanor offense carries a jail sentence of not more than one year. However, the fines and specific trespassing charges are defined differently state-by-state.
The equation is a simple one: Show a police officer respect, then skate another day. Disrespect a cop, potentially go to jail. Any skateboarder who has tested the theorem knows the results. As the police arrive, pick up your skateboard. Do not keep skateboarding. Do not run off, unless you want to be chased, beaten or charged with disorderly conduct or the obstruction of justice. Do not hold onto your skateboard when you talk to the police. Sit on your board, just do not give the police the idea that your skateboard is a weapon. Speak up, be clear, be responsive and do not ever act like the idiot that they believe you to be. It is common sense.
Is skateboarding away from a police officer who directs you to stay in a particular place a crime? The short answer is yes. If the cops roll up, don’t roll out. Bailing at this stage can get expensive. If you stupidly skate away and the officer tells you to stop, then do so. It can be a petty offense or a misdemeanor offense, but if you get into a car and then flee the scene you could be charged with a felony offense.
Also, don’t bet your life on being able to get away with turning your back on a cop who’s telling you to do something. If you skate away from an officer you may be tackled, tasered, beaten (or worse). Your apprehension may lead to a resisting arrest charge even if you weren’t necessarily resisting. Any time that you are in close physical contact with the police, you are likely to be charged with resisting an arrest or battery to a police officer. These charges are very negative and, if convicted, they may follow you for the rest of your working life.
If you’re not under arrest, don’t say shit, especially without legal counsel present.
If a police officer starts to ask you questions that you do not want to answer, you must be direct, remain calm and ask the officer whether or not you are under arrest. You may answer regarding your identification, residence, address or other publicly available identifying information, but DO NOT go any further. If the police officer answers that you are not under arrest, you are free to walk away.
But if the police officer states that you are under arrest, you must assert your Fourth Amendment rights and state as follows: “I invoke my right to remain silent,” and “I want to speak with my lawyer.” This decision to invoke your rights is easy and should be done immediately. However, police are very sly and often have high social intelligence when it comes to people questioning. They’re experts in eliciting incriminating statements. Plus, a high-stress encounter with the police can cause you to stoke up conversation or be unnecessarily talkative. The United States Supreme Court has routinely said that the Constitution is not implicated in a consensual conversation between a citizen and police officer, so whatever you say to them in even the most casual of asides can be used against you in a court of law.
After saying these words, you must remain silent and not say a word until after you have spoken with your lawyer. A competent lawyer would then tell you to remain silent through trial. Silence is golden, and it will save your life.
While it is not a crime to curse, your disrespect will have the officers going the extra mile to charge you with a crime, arrest you and then throw you in a cell with some much more legitimate criminals.
The United States Constitution requires that you have a probable cause or “Gerstein” hearing within 48 to 52 hours of arrest. Act poorly, and the officers will make sure you spend the 52, or even more, before you see a judge and are given the opportunity to post bond.
Anything and everything can be considered evidence, so yes, officers can confiscate whatever they want if they deem it can be used as evidence at trial. So stay cool, give up your board, and it should be returned to you. (And if you’re getting free shit, this is a serious no-brainer.) Police officers can also always seize contraband or property that you have no legal right to possess: Drugs without a prescription, alcohol if you are underage, or a fake I.D. So try and make sure that you do not skateboard with contraband on you. This is a one-way trip to jail.
If the cops take your property it may eventually be returned to you. Contraband will never be returned, but your skateboard, camera or other equipment that was seized by the police as evidence to be used at trial can be retrieved by court order or by following the instructions printed on a property receipt. If you are not given a receipt for your property, you must immediately go to the local police department that employs the police officer who arrested you. Tell the office at the front desk, “Please direct me to the confiscated or seized property division,” or say, “A police officer seized my property, what are the steps I need to take to get the property back?” If you remain respectful, you’ll find out the particular way in which the local police department or local court handles the receipt and return of property seized as evidence, and you’ll likely be able to get the property back.
But if your skateboard or camera equipment was used in the commission of a crime, for instance, if a skateboard was used as a weapon or if your VX1000 captured commission of that crime, you will not get the property back. An attorney may petition the court for the return of this property, but will likely be unsuccessful. Given that camera equipment is very expensive, it is in your best interests to hire a lawyer to immediately file a motion with the court for the return of property or to preserve evidence. Evidence not preserved by an attorney is destroyed or auctioned off by the police department.
Yup. Especially if you make the situation worse by acting a fool.
The Fourth Amendment does not require a police officer to pull out a copy of a city municipal or criminal code before executing an arrest. For such a petty offense this is unlikely to occur, but if you run across a rogue police officer and fail to treat him with respect, you may be arrested and unfortunately without meaningful recourse.
Yes, no, maybe so. This one requires a little research depending on where you are, so know your rights, especially when you’re out of state.
The laws are often labeled “eavesdropping” statutes, because of the recording of a conversation. A particular state can have a two or one-party consent rule. A one party consent rule requires only the consent of one-party to a conversation for a recording to be legal. A two-party consent rule requires the consent of both parties to a conversation for a recording to be legal. Filming the police may involve your First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
The First Amendment embodies constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of the press. You are free to film the police in the performance of their official duties in a public place or under circumstances in which the police officer has no reasonable right to privacy. But you cannot interfere with the performance of a police officer’s official duties when capturing them on video.
Film the police from a safe distance and make sure that they are performing their duties as a police officer. Do not film an off-duty cop who is not in a public place. You may film an arrest. But to be clear, the police may disregard your constitutional right to film them and arrest you.
Do not be surprised when the police actively prevent you from exercising your constitutional rights. It happens every day, every minute. Some officers will tell you, “I am the law!” and will arrest you for no good reason at all. Will the arrest hold up in court? No. But defending yourself in court is taxing, expensive, anxiety inducing, and will complicate your life. Depending on the judge or jury, you may even lose. This is the power of the police. The trick is to hold them accountable while also not getting yourself arrested too.
The general rule in life is: You break it, you pay for it. That’s true for skateboarding too. You can even be on the hook for serious damages in the millions and the offenses can rack up, depending on where the act takes place. This goes not only for ledges, rails, stairsets, walls and manual pads, but also for the most personal property of them all, the human body. Here’s some more specifics on the most costly crimes skaters can commit…
The primary offenses of which skateboarders must be aware are 1) trespassing 2) the destruction of private or governmental property 3) municipal code violations that prohibit the act of skateboarding specifically. Of those offenses, the one carrying the most severe penalty would most likely be the destruction of state or federal government property. This offense is a felony and generally, would carry a jail sentence of not less than one year.
Destruction of private or governmental property statutes are written similarly, state by state. The greater the value of the property damaged, the more severe the penalty. Also, the type of property or owner may increase the penalty. School or church property may carry a more severe penalty depending on the state in which you are skateboarding.
In Illinois, if you cause damage to government property in excess of $10,000, you may be charged with a “Class 2” felony that carries a jail sentence of three to seven years! Seems crazy, but thems the rules.
Yes, it can be. Just as a knife can be used to cut bread or to stab someone, so intent in this matter is everything.
A skateboard could be considered a deadly weapon because it is an object that can be used in a manner to cause great bodily injury or death. The deadly weapons statutes of various states are broadly written on purpose, and a skateboard, when used in a particular way, could certainly be argued as a deadly weapon. However, the mere possession of a skateboard is meaningless under the law. It is how the skateboard is used which matters most. KIDS was a movie — remember that.
An assault occurs when a person places another in fear of physical contact. A battery occurs when a person makes physical contact with another that is unpermitted and unprovoked. What does this mean? If you lunge at someone, or clench your fists and throw a punch at someone but miss, you have committed the offense of assault. A battery occurs when you touch someone or even touch something intimately connected to someone. Ripping a skateboard out of someone’s hands is a battery.
Aggravated battery is an offense that may be committed by coming into contact with another person through the use of a deadly weapon. A skateboard can be a deadly weapon depending on how it is used. If you swing a skateboard at someone and miss, you have committed an aggravated assault. If you swing your skateboard at someone and connect, you have committed an aggravated battery.
This one can’t be stressed enough: Keep your mouth shut and talk only to your lawyer. Listen up when the cops give you your Miranda Rights, they’ll tell you that you have the right to an attorney, and that if you can’t afford one the court will appoint one to you. Do your research when you get a chance and know your options, the legal landscape is designed to get you caught up in it. Stay safe out there and skate on!