The 24 hour news cycle and the explosion of social media have made it virtually impossible for any tragedy to go unnoticed. A child is shot to death in Ferguson, Missouri and the world watches in horror. Law enforcement officers are gunned down in New York City and people in Florida are posting about it on Facebook within minutes.
From the pain of these events, we can find moments to learn. From the perspective of a person who has spent more than a decade representing individuals charged with a variety of crimes, these situations provide a platform to discuss how we as citizens can and should interact with police officers.
When looking at citizen-police interaction, it is important to first realize that these contacts typically occur in locations that are fraught with tension. Whether it is on the side of a road after a traffic stop, on a dark sidewalk in the middle of the night, or at a front door in the early morning hours, these moments have the potential for peril. If you could pause these interactions and ask the citizen and the officer, “what is going through your mind right now”, both of their answers might be surprisingly similar. We all want to be healthy, we want to be safe, and we want to feel as if our life has meaning and purpose.
If the goal is to make it safely through these moments and also to protect your rights, then the starting point for the citizen is to know your rights and also know how to communicate your position. When I speak with people about this topic, I suggest the following – be direct and polite when you assert your rights.
Countless prior legal decisions have made it clear that if you do not directly assert your rights, then you may forfeit those rights. There is no room for ambiguity. For instance, if an officer asks if he can search my car, I would say “No, Sir”. I have nothing to hide, but I also have a Fourth Amendment Right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and quite frankly, I don’t want the Government rummaging through my stuff.
A second thing I ask young people to think about is how they would react if they perceives an officer was violating their rights. The important thing to remember in those moments is that there will be an opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of the officer’s actions in a courtroom. Assuming you have clearly asserted your rights, do not challenge the officer’s acts in the field. That doesn’t mean that you should consent to these acts. It just means that engaging in confrontational behavior in these moments will not be productive and could cause you more harm.
Our system is designed to give the citizen the right to challenge an officer’s actions in a courtroom. From my experience, becoming verbally or physically combative with law enforcement has never been a safe or successful strategy for the citizen. On the other hand, my clients who clearly assert their rights, remain calm in the face of perceived police illegality, and then aggressively defend their rights in a courtroom tend to fare much better in the criminal justice system. Over the years, we have helped several individuals fight violations of their rights in courts of law. If you have any questions about your rights, how to assert those rights, or how to challenge a potential violation of those rights, call Glassman & Zissimopulos Law today at 352-505-4515.