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Every year, people in federal and state parks end up in cuffs because they didn't realize that park rangers, or park police, are real law enforcement officers. Park rangers, park police, and even game wardens and other officials, not only have the authority to arrest you themselves, but they can also refer your matter to local law enforcement as well.
However, it is important to note a distinction between official officers and security guards. Particularly during the peak times of camping season, or at private camp grounds, some parks may hire private security guards to help out. Security guards should be easily distinguishable from real officers, and, like the ones found on college campuses, may still have more authority than one might expect. Security guards are often authorized to detain a person until real officers arrive.
To avoid being arrested while out in the wilderness, apart from not violating the law, it's best to have all your documentation in order and in your possession, or at least easily accessible. Often, park rangers will have a little bit more leeway to search a person or campsite than an ordinary police officer. This is because they are often tasked with administrative duties like checking hunting, or camp site, permits, collecting fees, and public safety monitoring duties like enforcing dog leash laws.
These duties allow park officials to come onto a campsite to inspect for a properly displayed permit, or stop a hunter or potentially even a person they see walking with their dog off leash (depending on the area). If probable cause of another crime is discovered during a stop or inspection, a full search, or arrest, could result.
If you are caught violating the law while in a local, state, or national park, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, as with any arrest, you have the right to remain silent. Whether it's a security guard, or legitimate officer, apart from identifying yourself, providing documentation incident to a traffic stop or other hunting license check, you do not have to answer questions. Affirmatively invoking your right to an attorney before answering any questions is a right you can exercise as well.
While violations of state law, such as DUIs, will be prosecuted under state law in most circumstances, it's important to know that if it is a national park, federal law will control. A good example of this involves legal marijuana users, who often find themselves in cuffs and prosecuted for just smoking a joint, or taking their medicine, in a national park. Even if the national park is fully located in a state like Colorado, where marijuana is legal for anyone over 21, federal law will make possession and use illegal.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.