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HIGH LIFE : Concert-goers and Search Limits

February 06, 1988

At a recent rock concert I was subjected to more than the typical cursory check for cans and bottles when I entered the theater. The promoter had security people keep ticket holders in line for more than an hour as they conducted what can only be described as a search-and-seize mission at the door. Concert-goers were permitted to enter single-file, doormen spent several minutes per person rooting through purses and pockets (they even checked one guy's hair looking for who knows what) and relieved people of pipes, papers, bags of grass, wineskins, and other assorted spirits. Do promoters have the right to conduct such a shakedown? Legally, do these private security people have the right to confiscate drugs? Is the concert-goer subject to a possession charge if he's caught holding? Am I within my rights to refuse to submit to a search or to demand a warrant? Can I be prevented from entering if I refuse to be searched? As for somebody patting me down, it seems to me that they'd be open to an assault charge. Could you spell out the law on this issue?

The constitutional safeguards against search and seizure apply only to the government, not to private parties. This is not to say that a concert promoter can search you with impunity. When you buy a concert ticket, you're essentially entering into a contract: the party of the first part (the promoter) agrees to allow the party of the second part (you) to attend his concert as long as you agree to play by his rules, which may include submitting to a search.

Basic contract law permits private parties to extract such conditions so long as they do not violate public policy--e.g., the promoter can't force you to commit a crime. You are within your rights, of course, to refuse to be searched, but the promoter can then refuse to admit you. (As a general rule, he's also obliged to give you your money back, and in fact promoters are almost always willing to do so.)

Note that there must always be an element of free choice involved in searches. If you're allowed into a concert and halfway through two of the promoter's goons decide to forcibly search you again, you could have them charged with assault. On the other hand, if you commence trashing the joint, it's perfectly all right for the goons to give their all in defending the boss's property (again, within reason).

The question is somewhat complicated by the fact that the "private security people" employed by concert promoters are often off-duty coppers. An off-duty police officer has the right--nay, the duty--to make an arrest when he or she witnesses a crime. Most promoters adhere to a policy of either ignoring drugs or simply confiscating them.

From 'The Straight Dope,' by Cecil Adams

Censorship on the Rise

Always a serious national problem, censorship is again on the increase. According to "Attacks on the Freedom to Learn, 1986-87," a report from People for the American Way, the 156 censorship incidents reported in 1986-87 constituted a 22% increase over the previous year. There has been a 160% increase in censorship incidents in the past five years.

Censorship stories have become common:

"As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner and "The Crucible" and "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller. Parents urged their removal, calling them "pure filth" in Sinking Valley, Ky.

"The American Heritage Dictionary." Ordered for a Folsom, Calif., high school, but shipped back to the distributor because of 13 "obscene" words.

"The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger. Removed from English class in Freeport High School, Walton County, Fla. Between 1965 and 1982, the book attracted more attention from book-burning crusaders than any other literary work, according to the National Council of Teachers of English.

"The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier. Banned from a high school English class in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker. A school principal in Newport News, Va., objected to the book on the grounds that it might incite rape. Students now must have written parental permission to read the library book.

"Cujo," by Stephen King. Removed from high school libraries in Bradford, N.Y.

"East of Eden" by John Steinbeck. Removed and put in a storage room in Anniston, Ala.

"Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain. Removed from reading list of the Waukegan, Ill., public schools.

"Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck. Removed from the curriculum in Scottsboro, Ala.

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Ken Kesey. Pulled from the curriculum of a high school in Troy, N.Y.

"The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway. Burned with other books in a public demonstration in Burlington, Vt.

"Working" by Studs Terkel. Scratched from the curriculum of a school district in Phoenix.

"A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water."

--Carl Reiner, Rob's dad

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