hen friends used to ask Neeraja Viswanathan for legal advice, the then-corporate lawyer was usually at a loss. “I was doing securities litigation, which gets to be a very rarified world,” she explains. “But I was often asked about smoking pot or last night’s Law & Order, and I had no idea what the answers were.” So she quit and wrote The Street Law Handbook: A Survival Guide to Sex, Drugs, and Petty Crime (Bloomsbury, $15.95), because for the recreational criminal (and you might be one without even knowing it), a little legal advice* can go a long way. So listen up as the Street Lawyer weighs in on a few dicey situations — all purely hypothetical, of course. — Emily Mead
The cops come to my party on a noise complaint. How do I keep them from finding my cokehead friends in the bathroom?
Don’t go on about your First Amendment rights and the police state we live in, or start spouting off stuff you learned on NYPD Blue, because you’re either being a know-it-all and pissing them off, or acting super-defensive and arousing their suspicion. Just say “I’m sorry” and promise to cease and desist. The biggest mistake you can make with cops is to talk too much, because if you confirm or deny anything, you’re only exposing yourself. I’m soliciting a prostitute. Are there any legal tricks to determining who’s a cop and not a real criminal, like me?
It’s pretty hard to spot an undercover cop, but generally, doing business with strangers is a bad idea, whether it’s for sex or drugs. And someone that seems really eager for you to break the law is probably bad news, too — either a cop or a snitch. After five glasses of eggnog, I get pulled over at a checkpoint. Am I better off taking the Breathalyzer or refusing it?
When Lizzie Grubman backed her SUV over a bunch of nice Hamptons people, it was futile to give her a Breathalyzer by the time she turned up twenty-four hours later. So try to put off taking the test; the later you take it, the less accurate it will be regarding the time that you were actually driving. But if they can still prove you were over the limit, the penalties are often more severe. My new boyfriend and I are, like, totally in love and sometimes we forget we’re in public. How much PDA is legal?
That depends a lot on community standards. A place like San Francisco will be a lot more liberal than Salt Lake City. The surefire way to get into trouble is to expose or fondle a private part — a breast, anus, penis or vagina — so keep your hands outside your playmate’s clothing. And definitely stay out of schools and churches. I’m driving to my in-laws for the weekend with an ounce of pot. Where should I hide it?
First, drive like your grandmother, and don’t even have a broken taillight. Once he pulls you over, he can do a cursory search of your car without calling in a warrant, although he can’t open the trunk or glove box unless there’s something more suspicious going on. Always hide it in an opaque container, and put it in the back seat behind the cushions or in the wheel wells, where you could argue that it wasn’t even yours. I found a handgun in my fifteen-year-old’s underwear drawer. Do I turn it over to the police, or hurl it into the river?
You don’t want them to start watching your kid because they’ve labeled him as ‘troubled’, but you’ve got to get that thing out of your house, and it’s probably better that the cops have it. I have an insatiable appetite for ogling live nude girls. Where and how am I safest in indulging it?
Spend a little extra for quality. The nicer the place, the more they have to lose by allowing you to break the law. That means no fondling the dancers, no prostitution, no underage girls, no masturbation. A seedy place that looks like trouble probably is, and the cops know it. If you’re going to take a chance with a little masturbation in a porn theater or a viewing booth, make sure it’s discreet. The management might look the other way, but an undercover cop might not. Strolling down the beach after a large supper, I come across two bales of marijuana. I’ll report it to the police, but can I keep some?
Keep under an ounce — a big fistful — and stick it somewhere out of sight, where they’d need a warrant to find it, at home. If you make an anonymous phone call, you can still do your civic duty without becoming the only person they know to question if they find out that some is missing. My boyfriend really likes to fool around in places where we might get caught. Would we get in less trouble for a blowjob than for sex?
Under the law, they’re both considered sex. In reality, a cop might let a blowjob slide because it’s not as much of a public disturbance. The thing to remember about the sex laws is that they’re always worried about who’s going to see you, and even a little kid knows what two naked people is about. Two cops come to my door asking about a robbery down the street last night. I was home watching The Big Lebowski, but my bong is still in the living room. How do I keep them out without acting suspicious?
Either come outside and close the door behind you, or apologize profusely and say “This is a really bad time — if you could give me your card, I’ll call you tomorrow.” Coming outside might arouse their suspicion, but if they ask, you can say you saw it on TV. Is it safest to keep my illegal Vicodin stash in my sock drawer at home, in a locker at the gym, or locked in my desk at work?
You’re entitled to more privacy at home than anywhere else. Keeping something locked up makes it harder to accidentally find, but if they’re looking for it, they have a better chance of legally finding it if it’s not at home. And keep it in a prescription bottle, even if it’s not the right one. My nosy neighbor was apoplectic when his eleven-year-old saw me having sex on my own coffee table. He can’t call the cops on me, can he?
If anyone on the street can see you without expending extra effort (going up close, craning his neck, etc.) then yes, but since they didn’t see you themselves, they’d probably give you a stern warning. Heed it and buy curtains. n° * Though the legal suggestions here are based on real-life case law and statutes, the information in this article is for entertainment purposes only, and should never be used as a substitute for the advice of a qualified legal professional specializing in your state law and specific area of question.
To buy The Street Law Handbook: Surviving Sex, Drugs and Petty Crime,