Songkran: Fun, Drinking, and the Thai Police
CHIANG RAI – Songkran is a Thai religious festival where people sprinkled water on their family members and pay respects to their elders marking the beginning of the Buddhist New Year.
Now it is more known as a weeklong holiday and a three-day water fight and party. Large numbers of tourist come to Thailand to join in the festivities.
There are music festivals, hotel pool parties, and walking street celebrations. It is a time where people let loose and civility is secondary. In response, Thai police are represented in large numbers to ensure that there are no disturbances.
Excessive drinking contributes to the party atmosphere and the police will be looking for people who have lost control. Public intoxication is defined as anyone who puts themselves into a state of drunkenness by the consumption of alcoholic beverages or other intoxicating substances and exhibits themselves in a troublesome or senseless behavior in a public or in a public space. Those found of public intoxication can be arrested and fined.
Many individuals lose control during Songkran. They begin defacing privateand public property by destroying, disfiguring, or marking buildings. Others just start fighting or joining a public brawl.These individuals can also face imprisonment and a fine.
During this period, do not consume illegal narcotics in Thailand. The police are everywhere. They are looking for people under the influence of narcotics. The potential penalty for public intoxication, defacing public property, or fighting does not compare to the seriousness of being arrested and charged with illegal narcotics. A charge for illegal narcotics opens up people for extortion and long sentences in Thailand’s overcrowded prisons.
What should someone do if they are approached by a Thai police officer?
It is best to cooperate with the Thai police. Normally, the police just wants to ask some questions or observe the behavior of an individual. Under section 367 of the Thai Criminal Code, people are required to provide their name and address to a public officer if it is made in the interest of legal enforcement.
The failure of provide such information or to intentionally give false information makes the person liable for a fine. In addition, the failure to cooperate might raise increase suspicions from the police and the police may further interrogate the individual.
In addition, any person who is given an order given by a legally authorized public officer and fails to abide by the order without reasonable grounds or excuse faces imprisonment and a fine. However, even if it is determined you have been given a reasonable request by a legitimate police officer, it is important to be wary.
If the police would like to search your clothes or bags, ensure that the search is done in public in the presence of other people. If they want to search your pockets, pull the items in your pockets by yourself to ensure that something is not unknowingly put in the pockets.
If the police determined that a law was broken and the individual needs to be taken into custody, they will arrest the suspect. The police have a duty to immediately inform the suspect of the charge and take them directly to the closest police station to be processed. They are not allowed to take them into another room or to a private house. They must take them directly to the police station.
After the arrest, the suspect can contact a related person and an attorney. Under Thai law, a suspect has the right to remain silent. It is a good idea for a foreign national to remain silent until they are represented by a local attorney. They can place themselves in a more difficult position if they talk without a full understanding of the language or Thai law.
The police can only hold a person for 48 hours unless they bring the suspect in front of a judge to request for an extension of the hold. After the arrest, the suspect may be eligible for bail. For small cases like public intoxication, the bail can be paid at the police station immediately.
Another quirk in the law is that Thailand has a good Samaritan law. When someone sees any person in danger, they are required to render assistance if the assistance does not put the individual in danger. If the public officer request assistance in the performance of a public duty, the person is required to assist the public officer. Failure to provide assistance in either of the above circumstances face imprisonment and a fine.
During this period of celebration, partiers should keep a copy of their identification, phone number of a local friend, contact for their local embassy, and the phone number of a local English speaking attorney. Have fun in groups and be vigilant. Stay away from narcotics and people who may attempt to take advantage of you.
By Yutthachai Sangsirisap and Robert R. Virasin
Mr. Yutthachai Sangsirisap is a licensed Thai Attorney practicing in Bangkok. Mr. Robert R. Virasin is a licensed U.S. Attorney and managing director of Virasin & Partners. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.virasin.com.
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