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Surviving An Arrest From The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

It is impossible not to recognize the presence of law enforcement during the first two weeks of August during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Law enforcement officers are brought in from all over South Dakota and hired from neighboring states to work the Rally. Task forces are created to facilitate all known forms of criminal interdiction, including:

  • DUIs
  • Drug possession offenses
  • Crimes against people, including assaults and sex offenses
  • Motorcycle theft
  • Illegal firearm possession

Since 1996, Kinney Law, pc realizes the need for criminal law representation for those who have been arrested during the Rally. Visitors inevitably learn how aggressive law enforcement interacts with the public during this time. Sturgis has a population of around 7,000 for 50 weeks of the year. That number, for the surrounding area, can grow up to 250,000 at any given time for the other 2 weeks.The Rally provides a vacation environment focused on 2-wheel traffic.  Many accidents occur, sometimes tragically, and the need for law enforcement is undeniable.  The main highways of Sturgis, Deadwood and other surrounding communities are heavily patrolled and the simplest of traffic violations trigger a traffic stop. The smell of alcohol or drugs will lead to searches, investigations and arrests.

The best advice that can be given to anyone arrested and taken to jail is to proceed carefully. In Sturgis, arrestees are not allowed to call their families or an attorney prior to their court appearance, which typically occurs the next morning.  While it is unconstitutional to deny visits from legal counsel prior to the initial appearance, the court system has been able to ignore this violation of rights over the years by sacrificing constitutional rights in the interest of judicial economy and staff limitations.

If not still under the influence the next morning after an arrest, many arrestees are hungover and not thinking clearly. Sometimes 40 or more people are arrested each night in Sturgis, held in jail and then are required to appear the next morning before the judge, including on the weekends of the Rally. Naturally, it is the government’s interest to resolve these cases as soon as possible, including weekends. Understand that law enforcement, the jail and the State’s Attorney’s Office all work together and cannot provide you with actual legal advice. Not having contact with family or friends before court to decide how to proceed can lead to desperate measures and poorly-thought decisions.

Always consider bonding out at your initial court appearance so that you have an ample opportunity to think over the consequences of being convicted of the crime of which you are accused. More often than not people go home to find a notice of driver’s license consequences coming in the mail soon after the Rally is done. Often times low-level DUI blood levels resolve in quick offers of Reckless Driving from the State’s Attorney at the initial appearance.

However, there are a number of states that suspend driver’s licenses once it is determined that you pled to Reckless Driving in South Dakota. South Dakota is a member of the Interstate Compact regarding driver licensing privileges and reports traffic-related convictions to all states.  Please see advice before you act, and remember, it is not the prosecutor’s job to provide you with this advice.

Judges often admonish defendants at their initial appearances to avoid pleading guilty just to get out of jail and go home. The Meade County Jail is severely overcrowded during the Rally and it is all too common for people to panic and seek whatever jailhouse advice they can receive before their initial appearance. If for any reason you are not comfortable with the criminal charge(s) of which you have been accused, a bond will be set in misdemeanor cases and will allow you to obtain your own attorney, who can make most of your court appearances for you in your absence. In felony cases, however, you will be required to attend future court appearances.

Getting caught in the legal system during the Rally can be an unforgettable experience, especially when a good attorney is not on your side of the process.