The Increasing Tides of Arrests in Asheville: Higher Frequency & Penalty for Large Venue Crimes

In recent months, Asheville has seen an increase in the number of arrests and citations issued at event venues - including the US Cellular Center (aka the Civic Center) and the Orange Peel. 

For those who don’t know, the US Cellular Center and the Orange Peel are downtown Asheville’s largest and most popular music venues, annually hosting such acts as The Avett Brothers and Widespread Panic.

Scores of felony charges seem to be the new normal following shows at these venues. While Asheville is a great place to experience live music, it’s not a great place to try and bend the law.

In this article, we address the potential causes for the increase in arrests, citations, and charge severity, and provide advice on what to do if you do run afoul of the law at the Orange Peel or US Cellular Center and end up facing charges.

Why the Increase in Charges?

The reason behind the increase in citations and arrests is likely a combination of factors: of course, there is more law enforcement at shows - but also, the District Attorney’s office is heavily committed to prosecuting Orange Peel and Civic Center offenders.

A third factor behind the growing offenses is due to the ever-growing tourist population in Asheville resulting in a huge number of out-of-town crowds who are unfamiliar with the venues. 

Seeing Alcohol Law Enforcement or the Asheville Police Department at a show is nothing new. For bigger events, it was common to have a few uniformed officers keeping the peace, and the bulk of enforcement was left to the venue employees who were conscious of everyone’s desire to have a safe evening. 

In recent years, more and more undercover officers have made appearances at the Orange Peel – hiding in the shadows on the smoking deck and patrolling the bathrooms.

Now, in recent busts we see the work not of covert agents inside the Peel but right at the front door: patrons being singled out for looking “high” or “messed-up” while waiting in line. Young crowds now have portable breathalyzers stuck in their mouths without warning. 

The assumption here is that if you look suspiciously young or like you’ve had too much fun there’s a good chance you will be approached by law enforcement.

Your pockets, your cigarette packs, and even your shoes will be emptied and searched if you are profiled. 

Charge Severity Differs by Location… and Event

"The DA's office prosecutes these cases to the full extent of the law, seldom granting dismissals for clean records or small amounts of controlled substance."

Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams has played a part in increased Orange Peel and Civic Center charges as well.

His office prosecutes these cases to the full extent of the law, seldom granting dismissals for clean records or small amounts of controlled substances without defendant’s going through a formal diversion program. 

Furthermore, a policy that punishes patrons offending at more popular and well-attended shows has come into effect over the past six months. A mandatory fine of $500 is now levied on a case-by-case, show-by-show basis depending on the kind of event attended. For example, a defendant who was busted at a Panic show will pay the $500 fine, while a defendant who attended 80’s tribute band “The Breakfast Club” will not. 

The likely motive behind this policy is to deter crowds who frequent larger annual events from breaking the law and to spread the word that, if you do attend these shows and break the law, you will be punished harshly. 

Who is breaking the law? Too many unsuspecting tourists?

Asheville’s tourism boom may also have a hand in the increased number of arrests. Many of the cases we see are out-of-town defendants echoing the same sentiment, “I didn’t know it was that strict!” 

If you’re a well-seasoned Orange Peel patron you are probably aware that the smoking deck and bathroom are stringently watched. If you are in town for a bachelor party, chances are you’re unsuspecting. 

We do not believe authorities are targeting tourists. It is clear, though, that the increased presence of law enforcement at the US Cellular Center, the Orange Peel, and other areas downtown is part of an effort to maintain the local law and to keep our town from becoming a destination for debauchery, such as New Orleans.

What Happens if I Break the Law? 

Of course, the best advice I can give is – don’t break the law!

Say you’re in line to see your favorite band. You’re 19 years old, you drank at a hotel before the show. A woman dressed in street clothes approaches you at the door and asks if you’ve been drinking. What do you do? 

If you’re in the situation above your night is probably already ruined. At the very least, you’re not getting into the show. More realistically, you’re going to be sitting on a curb waiting to receive your unexpected piece of “merch,” a pink citation with a court date.

Know Your Rights & the Rules When Visiting Venues

"... when you come into these venues, you open yourself up to being searched."

The US Cellular Center, The Orange Peel, and other venues have a duty to keep their patrons safe and are well within their rights to search you and your property before you enter - and you must abide by the venue’s rules in order to have a safe evening.

However, you still have rights that you should be aware of and that you are free to exercise. The right to remain silent and the right to be free of unlawful searches and seizures are not lost when you walk through the doors of the venue.

If you are approached by security at these venues, you should ask the following questions: 

  • “am I being detained?”
  • “am I free to leave?”
  • “am I under arrest?”

In most cases, defendants are not being detained or arrested but had their clothes and personal belongings thoroughly searched. Again, when you come into these venues, you open yourself up to being searched as a safety measure. Whether that search will hold up in court is a discussion to have with an attorney.

The old tried and true method of sneaking booze into a concert in your belly is also against Orange Peel and US Cellular Center rules. Do not try it. The Orange Peel also will not let you bring bags into their venue - leave those at home too.

If you look underage or your ID says you’re underage there’s a good chance someone is going to make you blow into a Breathalyzer. Can you decline? Sure - but then you have to leave. 

The two indicators I most often see in these cases are: “looked drunk” or “smelt of alcohol.” If you’ve been drinking, usually others can tell - so it’s best to avoid it if you are going to the Orange Peel.

Be Careful What You Carry - or Risk Felony Charges

belongings.jpg

One stark reality many defendants face is that with certain drugs, possessing ANY amount is considered a felony. 

Let that sink in. The one Adderall you have in your pocket or 0.5 grams of Molly could land you in a situation with serious, life-altering consequences. 

The list of felonious controlled substances is long, but not nearly as long as the list of first-time offenders facing felony drug charges. If you walk into the US Cellular Center or the Orange Peel with drugs and they’re found, there’s a good chance you’re not walking back out.

I made a mistake. What do I do now?

In the unfortunate scenario where you are reading this article with your citation sitting next to you, it is best to contact a lawyer immediately.  Certain time limits go into effect, which could inhibit your ability to defer your charge. An attorney may be able to help you avoid costly and inconvenient court appearances, too. 

Inevitably, it is always best for yourself and those around you to abide the law and to ensure you understand the local law before you make horrible mistakes on vacation in a new city.