Getting arrested in Las Vegas

What to do, what to expect, and why

WHAT HAPPENS IF you do something really stupid at Defcon, or even in greater Las Vegas? You get arrested, which is precisely why Jim Rennie gave a talk titled, “So You Got Arrested at Defcon….”.

Jim Rennie is a criminal defense lawyer working in Las Vegas, so you can assume that he has seen it all, or at least most of it. With that knowledge, and lots of trips to the Clark County Detention Center to meet clients arms him with knowledge that you don’t want to learn the hard way.

A bad pic of Jim Rennie

Jim Rennie proves we can’t take good pictures

You know a talk is going to be good when it starts out by saying that it covers only the local laws, if the feds come to Vegas looking for you, you are in more trouble than a 20 minute talk can help with. With that, Jim went through the list of crimes that might, err, appeal to the Defcon set.

There are three categories of crimes, misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony. Misdemeanors are the lowest class, they are punishable by up to 6 months in jail, $1000 in fines, and roughly another $1000 in legal fees. When you add a gross tag to the front, jail goes to 1 year, fines to $2000, and legal fees of about $5000 if a trial is involved. Felonies, they go up from there on jail and fines, and legal fees balloon to $10,000 or more. Basically, it isn’t worth it.

The first class of crimes that Defcon attendees might want to watch out for are drug crimes. These range from possession of various classes of substances to possession with intent to sell. The main difference, at least according to the cops, is that if you have one baggie of recreational pharmaceutical, you fall under possession. If you have two or more baggies, you are in possession with intent to sell. The moral, put it all in one bag, but don’t have a bag of baggies.

Police it seems will often make a very tenuous charge, like two joints being possession with intent, and use it to bargain off later. Basically, they push the limits of what you can be charged with so you end up bargaining down and pleading guilty to what you did in the first place. If you don’t have a lawyer to bargain that down, you could be in deep trouble. Morals, charges may be bumped up, and get a lawyer. Both were themes repeated in the talk.

The most serious drug crime is trafficking a controlled substance. This one is a felony, and depending on circumstances, can get you life in prison. If you are thinking ‘bag of baggies’, think bigger, like truck of baggies. Or possibly two baggies, no lawyer and an angry judge.

Next most common on the hit list for Defcon attendees is prostitution, and it is actually illegal in Las Vegas. Contrary to what many believe, prostitution is illegal in Nevada in counties that have a population of more than 300,000. Vegas may have a shrinking population, but it isn’t that small yet. The closest counties are fairly far out, but according to the talk, if you go to the hotel concierge, the brothels will send a limo for you.

Crimes involving prostitutes are either soliciting or pandering. Soliciting is asking someone to have sex with you for cash, and the Las Vegas cops routinely set up sting operations. Once again, contrary to popular opinion, cops do not have to tell you that they are cops if you ask. Doing that will simply make you look stupid on the video tape of the arrest.

Pandering is the technical term for pimping. If you go up to someone on the street and say, “hey, why don’t you come and work for me, I have a better health and dental plan than most pimps”, that is bad. Very bad. Soliciting will get you a proverbial slap on the wrist, pandering will probably send you to jail.

Last on the prostitution list is something called a “Trick Roll”, and it should not be confused with this. Trick rolls are not a crime you commit, but one committed against you. When you go to the bathroom or sleep, the prostitute robs you. It is hugely underreported because most men don’t want to go home and explain to their wives why they have to go back to Vegas in two months to testify against a prostitute that robbed them in their hotel room…..

Third on the list is computer crimes, and there are actually local laws against such things. Jim Rennie however says that the chances are almost zero that anyone from Defcon will ever be charged with such a crime. These include illegal use of a system, unlawful use of encryption, and unlawful use or access of a computer.

Why won’t some overly enthusiastic Defcon attendees get picked up on these charges? Because they are aimed at either the corporate embezzler or child pornographer. The corporate types are ones who overstep their internal authority, or log back in after they are fired. The encryption side is used to get people who won’t give police the decryption keys, it is the curfew violation for the evil predator set.

That is not to say that a few of the Defcon attendees won’t do some silly things on their PCs, they always do. It is just that the sorts of things the con goers are going to test out transcend local laws and tend to go directly to federal offenses. The author can verify that trying to get local law enforcement to care about computer crimes is a lost cause, but that was in a former life.

Somewhat related to this is a class of crimes that may use a computer, but usually does not, cheating at gambling. Vegas was built on gambling, and they take it very seriously. The casinos are extraordinarily good at catching cheats, and have surveillance systems that make banks looks silly. Just ask the guys trying to steal the cash machine from a casino lobby at last year’s show, they didn’t get very far.

Cheating at gambling can involve communicating counts to other players, making or taking a bet after the result is known, or other more pedestrian things. One client Jim had put money on an 18 at roulette. When the result came up 21, he grabbed his chips and ran toward the door. Again, he didn’t get very far. In Las Vegas, don’t try to cheat the casinos, they can be unpleasant when you threaten their livelyhood.

Another common one for con goers is DUI, and there is a lot of that in Vegas. The blood alcohol limit is 0.08, but most people pulled over are in the 0.20 range, that is where people start driving very badly. Nevada is an ‘implied consent’ state, if you drive, you give them the right to test you.

If you get pulled over, Jim advises that you ask for a blood test. These are more precise than breathalysers, and on top of that, they have to take you to the station to do it, giving you more time to sober up in borderline cases. If you refuse, the implied consent part means they can literally take a sample from you, strapping you down if necessary. When things get that bad, you are likely in very deep trouble.

Penalties for DUI are not all that harsh the first time, but if you gave three convictions in 7 years, you go to jail for 1-6 years. This one is hard to feel all that bad about, no one likes drunk drivers.

Not that it ever happens, but disorderly conduct is against the law in Las Vegas, as are fake IDs. If you are under 18 and try to buy booze with one, it is a gross misdemeanor. If you are selling them, you going to get hit with a felony. Being disorderly when doing either will add a misdemeanor to the tab. Jim Rennie did not explicitly say why he brought these to up at Defcon.

That brings us to the last one, burglary. If you steal something, that is theft, likely a misdemeanor unless it is worth a lot of money. If you enter a structure to steal the same thing, it can be a felony. What do they mean by a structure? Jim Rennie says that is almost anything bigger than a breadbox, but check out the definition according to NRS 205.060.

“A person who, by day or night, enters any house, room, apartment, tenement, shop, warehouse, store, mill, barn, stable, outhouse or other building, tent, vessel, vehicle, vehicle trailer, semitrailer or house trailer, airplane, glider, boat or railroad car, with the intent to commit grand or petit larceny, assault or battery on any person or any felony, or to obtain money or property by false pretenses, is guilty of burglary.”

Moral, don’t jump into someone else’s glider or mill if you want to grab some loose change on the seat. This is one of the charges that will be ‘bumped up’ in order to get you to bargain down. If you don’t have a lawyer, shoplifting a candy bar could be a felony if done indoors, or in a glider.

Those are a pretty good list of common things the Defcon set may be tagged with, purely theoretically of course. Everyone knows that the attendees spend free time helping old ladies cross streets and polishing their halos. If any are falsely grabbed for something they didn’t do, what happens then?

The first thing most people will say is that they get their Miranda rights read to them. This may sound good, but it isn’t necessary. If the police want to use the things you say against you in court, then they do have to Mirandize you. If not, like in a DUI case where they have a blood sample, they don’t need to do it. Since it is a good idea, they probably will though.

At this point, you should shut up. No, really, shut up, anything you say can only hurt you, not help. Police are not judges, and you can’t convince them to let you go. Social engineering will likely only get them mad, and get you in deeper trouble. Once again, you should shut up.

The only thing you should say from then on is that you want a lawyer. Do so directly and explicitly, being wishy-washy is bad. It is so bad that if you are vague or indecisive, it may mean the police don’t have to get you a lawyer. You want a lawyer. And you still want to shut up.

Two exception to the rules are minors and foreign nationals. If you are under 18, you should explicitly ask for your parents. The police will get them for you, and you then have an ally outside, even if they will likely beat you silly when you are released. Foreign nationals should ask to be put in touch with their local consulate, and then ask for a lawyer as well. And both minors and foreign nationals should still shut up.

From there, you get a free trip to the Clark County Detention Center. The Las Vegas strip is not in Las Vegas, it is in an unincorporated part of Paradise, NV, so you don’t get to go to the luxurious city jail. Neither are happy places, and even the worst Vegas hotel is more luxurious than the average Clark County cell.

A few tips while in jail. First is if you have friends outside, they can put money into your account to buy things with. Toothpaste is a good one, especially if you are very hung over. Also, baloney sandwiches are the one meal at Clark County. If you don’t like baloney on white, well, you can buy better if you have money. Rumor has it that O.J. Simpson was popular because he had enough money to regularly buy most inmates snickers bars.

Those friends will be able to ‘visit’ you as well, but only by video conference. There is no face to face meetings unless it is with police or lawyers. You do get unlimited phone calls for the first 12 hours or so, something that made the crowd strangely excited. It was never settled as to whether or not that included international calls. In any case, the police will take your cell phone, so keep an emergency number or two memorized.

One other word of warning, do not, ever, never never never, mention that you may be suicidal. This is bad, and if you followed the rules above, IE you shut up, this should not be a problem. If the police think you are suicidal, they will put you in an area called 2C.

Because you are a danger to yourself, they will take all your clothes so you don’t try to hang yourself. This also means things like chairs, desks, and anything not soft might endanger you, so you don’t get any of these either. You get a combo futon/blanket thingy that is soft and very hard to kill yourself with.

According to at least one audience member, you freeze at night in 2C, even with the futon/blanket thingy. The next morning, you also have the absolute joy of meeting your new lawyer stark naked, but you get to sit on the blanket/futon thingy when talking to him or her.

24 hours later, you will have a probable cause hearing, basically this is where the police tell a judge that they have arrested you for a reason. Within 72 hours, you will be arraigned or released. This can be under your own recognizance or bail.

Bail has two forms, you can pay it or use a bondsman. Bondsman are said to be universally unsavory sorts, so it is best to avoid them if you possibly can. If you make bail, or your friends outside do, you get 100% back at the end of the trial. A bondsman will charge you 15% of the total, and you don’t get that back at the end. Pay up, you get it back.

From there, you get a trial within 15 days, up to 60 if it is a felony. A good lawyer will likely try and postpone it if they can for a number of reasons, so this process can drag on and on. In any case, if you are arrested in Las Vegas, it can be over in 24-72 hours for a misdemeanor, but can go on for as long as 6 months for a DUI or felony.

You don’t want to have either, or anything between, so don’t break the law in Las Vegas. If you do, it is best not to get caught afterwards, so don’t try and steal a cash machine in the middle of a casino. No one in Vegas likes a law breaking moron.

That said, here are a few handy bits of information that may help you. The statute of limitation in Las Vegas is about a year for misdemeanors, and it rises to three years for most gross misdemeanors and felonies. Some serious crimes have a longer limit, and some like murder may have none. I would not count on this to save you though.

On a slightly more humorous note, there is an open container law in Nevada. If you are in a car, don’t have an open bottle of booze in it, bad things will happen if you are pulled over. The exception to this is if you are in a cab, then it is OK. To make things funnier, it isn’t OK to walk around drunk sipping a drink unless you are on the strip or Freemont St downtown. In both of these places, it is perfectly fine behavior. The law is a bit, err, spotty at times.

It is the same with so called burglary tools. Jim said he has heard of plastic bags being classified as such, mainly to bargain down in shoplifting cases. If you buy a shiny set of lockpicks at the Defcon vendor area, it is probably OK if you have a clean record and are just walking down the street. If you are caught in a store after it closes with a set….. shut up and ask firmly for a lawyer.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate