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Your Rights When Stopped By A Cop
How the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments could work for you. A video on what to do and what not to do in a traffic stop. Remember, they have to have probable cause -- a valid reason, like seeing something in plain sight, not just a desire -- to search your car. Do your best not to confess to anything, including speeding, thus incriminating yourself. And remember this line: "I don't consent to any searches, sir."

I don't smoke pot, but I'm against our drug laws, and I don't want to see you jailed because you've got a joint in your backpack -- as long as you're not smoking it while you're behind the wheel.

Posted by aalkon at November 28, 2006 10:28 AM

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Amy, love, could you please fix that link? I really want to see that video.

Oh, wait. Never mind. I see what the problem is. Your own url is written before the actual url. The video is here.

Posted by: Patrick at November 28, 2006 1:56 AM

Link is fixed. Sorry about that!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 28, 2006 5:17 AM

I haven't had a chance to watch this video, so it may cover this - but FYI, probable cause and consent are not the only ways cops can legally search your car. There are other exceptions to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment, which fall under the broad category of "exigent circumstances."

This would allow a cop, for example, to search any area that is within your immediate control, such as the front seat and the floor (wherever you could reach), for weapons. The rationale is that the cops shouldn't have to wait for a search warrant to protect themselves in what the courts view as a basic, minimally intrusive manner. And if they find contraband during this type of legal search for weapons, you're toast.

Also, if you refuse a search, they can legally hold you, or even seize your car (for a limited time), while they try to get a warrant. They would have to give the judge a reason to issue the warrant - other than your refusal, of course - but a search refusal will arouse their suspicions, and may not be as effective ultimately as I suspect this video may imply.

I'm against our drug laws, too - it's stupid to criminalize a medical problem or keep adults from abusing their bodies if it doesn't reach the level of addiction or abuse. And these laws actually create more crime by making drugs more profitable. I'm also in favor of knowing your rights - but your best protection is not to have anything in your car that you wouldn't want the cops to see - and your second best protection is to keep it in the trunk, and don't give them any reason to arrest or hold you.

Posted by: Melissa at November 28, 2006 3:09 PM

It does indeed cover the points you're making. It points out that they can indeed search your car if there is "probable cause," (4th amendment).

Posted by: Patrick at November 28, 2006 7:41 PM

Patrick, "probable cause" is not the same thing as "exigent circumstances." In fact, "exigent circumstances" might be viewed as a category of exceptions to probable cause.

Probable cause means the police have a reasonable basis to believe that a particular person or place has something that is related to, or evidence of, a crime. But "exigent circumstances" allow the police to search your car or your person in certain situations even if they had no basis to suspect you of anything, let alone probable cause.

Also, it seems that you are confusing the language of the Fourth Amendment with the rules that have developed to implement the Fourth Amendment. Probable cause is constitutionally required for a search warrant to be issued - but neither probable cause nor a warrant is required for all searches, because the Fourth Amendment language protects against "unreasonable searches and seizures," which isn't the same thing as warrantless searches or searches without probable cause.

In fact, a search could be illegal even if the police have probable cause, because many circumstances require a search warrant (which is preferred by courts because of the constitutional protections it affords).

As I mentioned to Amy in an email, procedural criminal law is a year-long law school course, and the rules and requirements shift and shade with new court decisions. So what is and is not a legal search is extremely tricky and involved even for those with a law degree who keep abreast of the subject, and as a result, I wouldn't be surprised if this video is incomplete and/or unclear in some areas.

Posted by: Melissa at November 29, 2006 1:15 PM

Whoa. I'm pretty much past worrying about this kind of thing, but still, Thank You Amy for posting this. It just reinforces what I have heard in the past, namely, shut the hell up, don't admit or sign anything, and ask for a lawyer.
Thank you also Melissa for your addition to this whole discussion. As they say, and say, there's the law, and there's justice. It seems like the best is still to refuse permission to search if you actually have contraband... but what about the art student? He just had art supplies, which would then be used against him. Refuse searches in all cases? Melissa, are there cases where this would make things worse? I mean, I suppose that if he had a pint of milk and a teddy bear in his backpack, that couldn't have hurt him, but this video does make you wonder.
But what it (the first third of the video) mainly made me think of, was Afroman doing ‘Because I Got High.’ “I wasn’t gonna run from the cops, but then I got high,…ooh woooh, I was gonna pull right over and stop, but then I got high…” Man, the diction on this song has to be heard to believed, this guy has the most baked-ass delivery I ever heard, and that includes Snoop Dog’s (inferior, you ask me) rapping. Go check it out on Youtube.
And lock your shit in the trunk. And clam the hell up, take your payin’ paper, be courteous, and don’t consent to searches.

Posted by: Cat brother at November 29, 2006 6:21 PM

Lol, I love that Afroman song, but I remember how the rest of that cop part goes "Now I'm a paraplegic and I know why!" which I found funny and scary @.@
But my question is on 'probabable cause'- is it true that if you had nothing in your trunk and the cops do a search without your consent and for no provocation on your part, they can say it's a legal search after the fact anyway? Does my question make sense?

Posted by: Marissa at November 30, 2006 12:47 AM

Cat brother - of course you can make things worse by refusing a search. In fact, I would assume this would be virtually guaranteed as the response. The refusal, in itself, could arouse suspicions and make the cops look at you more closely than they otherwise might. So if I had nothing to hide, I'd consent to a search even if I resented the request.

And I'd think twice about how and whether to refuse the search request if I had something to hide - "hell no - you're always targeting people like me" versus "Officer, I'd rather not let anyone go through my personal belongings, but perhaps if you told me the reason for the request - ?"

Posted by: Melissa at November 30, 2006 1:04 PM

On the subject of drugs, if I didn't have any on me or in my stuff, and I knew FOR A FACT that there were no trace amounts in the car, yes, I'd consent to a search. It seems clear that the law will prosecute you for any they find, so, as in the case of the video, if you do have any, I can't see why you'd consent. I mean, how could that make things worse, as long as you did it calmly? And if s/he does find something, wouldn't your lawyer have some case to get it dismissed, if you didn't consent to the search?
Does a 'search' include the whole car, ie the trunk? How about a suitcase in the trunk? Can an officer open that suitcase if it doesn't have a firearm hanging out of it, or smell like Tommy CHong's beard?
And yes, I'd never lip off to an officer, no matter how out of line they were.
I think a lot of this also has to do with the appearance you project - if you look like maybe the type to have some dope, but clean-cut and not dangerous, will the cop really kick it far up the food chain, especially if s/he figures that maybe your daddy's a lawyer? For the example of the noisy party, it seems unlikely that the police will actually be able/willing to go get a warrant, if your house is not known as the neighborhood crack store.

Posted by: Cat brother at November 30, 2006 3:48 PM

Marissa - the way this issue generally comes up (i.e., whether a search is legal or not) is if the cops find something, you are charged, and your lawyer then moves to exclude the evidence based on a claim that the search was illegal.

So if they don't find anything, I don't know why anyone would even examine whether the search was legal or not. The only way I could see this issue coming up in the scenario you describe is if you made a complaint about the cops. But even then, I believe (though I'm no expert) that the potential illegality of the search would just be one factor in what they'd be investigating, like whether the cops acted reasonably, within their own policies and procedures, etc.

Posted by: Melissa at November 30, 2006 4:17 PM

Cat brother, these are very good questions - exactly the type of issues you'd spend at least a month or two discussing in a law school criminal procedure class. Unfortunately, I don't have time to teach that class!

Short of going to law school, if this subject interests you, I have 2 suggestions. First, at my law school (Georgetown), they have a clinical program where law students teach "street law" to high school students and in some adult programs. So if you have a law school nearby, you might want to find out if there are any resources like this available. Also, Nolo Press has a lot of great legal publications aimed at non-lawyers, and they may have something on this subject.

Posted by: Melissa at November 30, 2006 4:34 PM

"...exactly the type of issues you'd spend at least a month or two discussing in a law school criminal procedure class."
(In Homer Simpson voice) Forty seconds to chicken-fry an ox? Forty seconds? But I want it NOWWWW!
Have you all seen that video on Youtube yet? I swear, the funniest part is the commentary off-camera to Afroman's lines; "I was gonna pay my child support, but I got hiiiighhh...""No you wudn't.."
Oh man, is the Domino's guy here yet? ANd then we're gonna watch Starship Troopers for FOUR HOURS STRAIGHT!

Posted by: Cat brother at November 30, 2006 5:45 PM

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