Today at our weekly NORML chapter meeting, we watched a video called “Flex Your Rights”. It is brand new; it came out this past Monday in fact. It outlined exactly how to deal with police, and included 10 rules to always remember during a police encounter. This is very important stuff, and I wish I’d seen this video a year ago… but that’s another story. Make sure you know your rights because these tips may save you a lot of money, time and legal trouble. Now I know that many cops are out there to try and keep us safe, and many are very nice people. I happen to know a few personally. But it’s no secret that there are also bad cops out there, and even the nicest cop on the force will use your mistakes against you. Don’t give them a chance. Read on for the rules.
Rule #1: Always be calm and cool
Nothing surprising there. Always keep a polite tone with an officer. Even if you’re having the worst day of your life, you can’t let your frustration show. Never talk back, raise your voice, or make any sudden or aggressive motions. Many cops carry tasers now, and there’s nothing better than having an excuse to play with a brand new toy. Keep careful control of your words and your tone. A bad attitude can be the difference between a warning and a beating.
Rule #2: You have the right to remain silent, so use it
The fifth amendment states that no one shall be made to witness against himself. This means that if a policeman asks you questions, to have the right to leave them unanswered. Cops are not obligated to tell you the truth. A common phrase you’ll hear from law enforcement is, “You can make this easy on yourself, or very difficult.” They usually will give you two options: Rat yourself out, or be charged with a much bigger crime. DO NOT LISTEN. There’s no deal that a cop will make with you. They will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law in any case, as that is their job. They want you to make it easy on them. So politely say, “I’m going to remain silent, I’d like to see a lawyer.” Be firm verbally, but do not physically resist. When you repeatedly ask for a lawyer to be present, cops usually will be more careful concerning your rights.
Rule #3: DON’T EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER CONSENT TO SEARCHES, EVER.
Just don’t ever do it. If there’s only one rule you take away from this whole post, please let it be this one. The 4th amendment to our constitution states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This means that cops need either probable cause or a warrant to search you. Yes, that includes your car. Yes, that includes your pockets. Yes, THAT INCLUDES YOUR DORM ROOM. When in doubt, ask for a warrant. If they insist, ask for a lawyer. You should say, clearly and calmly, “I’m sorry, but I don’t consent to searches.” This may not actually stop a search, since you are unarmed and there is most likely more than one cop trying to search you. But if you are searched without consent, your lawyer will have a much easier time getting your charges dropped in court.
Rule #4: Don’t get tricked!
As I stated earlier, it’s not illegal for a cop to lie to you. They will offer you all sorts of deals to turn yourself or others in. Do not listen. Use your fifth amendment right to remain silent. Ask for a lawyer. Give them a clear impression that you know your rights and will use them to your full advantage. Also keep in mind that you can’t be questioned or searched unless you’re being detained or arrested, which brings us to the fifth rule:
Rule #5: Ask to leave
When you are stopped by the police, they need a legitimate reason in order to keep you. If a policeman ever asks you to sit down, to identify yourself, or to search you or your belongings, it’s a good idea to ask, “Am I being detained, or am I free to go?” You may want to ask this a couple times, because a cop will try to dodge this question. If there’s no pressing reason to detain you, then a cop must allow you to leave.
Rule #6: Don’t expose yourself
If you have bumper stickers of weed leaves or guns, or if you keep your piece out in plain sight, you’re obviously asking for trouble. Don’t broadcast yourself in any way. Blend in. A cop who pulls you over and sees pot leaf stickers all over your bumper isn’t going to give you any room for error. At all. Police encounters are dangerous enough without you flaunting yourself.
Rule #7: Don’t run away and don’t hide or throw anything
I know how easy it is to panic when you see a cop. Personally, I get this sensation that my stomach is falling whenever I see a cop come near. It’s hard to keep your nerve when approached by a cop on the street, but if you try to run or hide something quickly, that’s probable cause to tackle and cuff you. Always remain calm and remember your rights. Don’t consent to searches, and don’t give the police a reason to use force against you. Resisting arrest is a citation that is almost always tacked on to others, which will cost you more. It also makes your lawyer’s job much harder in court, because judges and juries are never sympathetic to people who resist arrest.
Rule #8: Never touch a cop
Cops are trained to react without thinking. They have a very dangerous job, and they are always on their guard. Never for any reason should you make physical contact with a cop. Things will most likely get violent, and they can easily claim that you were attacking them. Simple, but important.
Rule #9: Report misconduct and be a good witness
If a cop violates your rights, don’t get angry and don’t physically resist. Instead, state that you haven’t consented to any searches and that you wish to speak to a lawyer. After that, shut your mouth and listen. Try to remember everything that is said and every move the police make. Remember what the cops look like, their names (they always wear name tags) and their license plate number if possible. Never ask for a cop’s badge number. If a cop knows that you’re going to file a complaint, they have much less incentive to treat you nicely. After the incident is over, look around. Talk to any witnesses who may have seen what happened so you can verbally go over the entire incident. Write it down if possible. If you were injured, have someone take a picture of the injury at its worst, as soon as possible. Report misconduct as soon as you are able. Remember, cops are fired when there are too many complaints filed against them. It’s also not good for a police department if the press gets wind of the misconduct.
Rule #10: YOU DON’T HAVE TO LET THEM IN!
This is just as important as rule number three. If the police knock on your door, you should never invite them inside. If you really feel you must talk to them, step outside and close the door behind you. You can also talk to them through the closed door, or better yet, totally ignore them until they go away. If they don’t have a warrant, there is no reason to invite them into your house unless you are in danger. They can’t force their way in without a warrant, and if they do it’ll be a cinch for your lawyer to get your charges dropped in court.
I don’t need to give you any personal anecdotes for you to realize how important it is to know your rights. No warrant, no search. Remain silent. Ask to leave. Ask for a lawyer. Don’t answer any questions without a lawyer present. It might save you big time one day, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
To order the video or see more about these rules and the Flex Your Rights program, visit http://www.flexyourrights.org. Be safe!