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How To Assert Your Rights When You Encounter The Police

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From http://www.flickr.com/photos/23206546@N04/9430923312/: stopped by a cop
stopped by a cop
(image by Rusty Clark)
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If you use pot you are a criminal.

This is true even in Colorado and Washington, where the feds continue to outlaw cannabis. This is also true in California and other states that provide medical protection. This means the police not only have the right, but the obligation to try and stop you (though state police cannot enforce federal law). Fortunately, you do not have to help them. The United States Constitution gives you rights that protect you during police encounters. It is the job of the police to find evidence of a crime. It is not your job to confess or help them. They get paid quite well, so please do not do their job for them. Your job is to do and say the right things to protect yourself and defend your rights.

During a police encounter, the best case scenario is you will be let go with a warning or simple citation. The worst case is, you or someone you love will get hurt. No one should be the victim of police brutality, but it happens. Cops are jumpy. They are trained to be suspicious. Do not make any sudden moves they can claim were threatening. Be polite and respectful, even if the courtesy is not returned. Remember, the police do not have the final word and while they may be able to harass, intimidate, and arrest you, the real fight is in the courtroom before the judge and jury. But you must actually survive the police encounter first before you can win the battle in court.

To win that court battle, your lawyer needs to be able to prove the police acted illegally and the evidence should therefore be thrown out. The goal is to get all the evidence tossed so that there is no case left against you. If you give police permission, your lawyer will not be able to argue they acted illegally and there will not be much s/he can do to defend you. This is why what you do and say are very important. Your lawyer needs you to say the "magic words." These are words that limit what the police can do and will help your lawyer prove the police acted illegally.

The Magic Words

What are the magic words, you ask? The first magic words can set you free. Simply ask,

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"AM I FREE TO GO?"

If they reply that you are free to go, then you are free to go. You may have to wait for the officer to finish the citation, but yes, you are free to go. If you are not free to go, then you must use the other magic words,

"I DO NOT CONSENT TO ANY SEARCHES,"

"I WANT TO REMAIN SILENT,"

"I WANT A LAWYER."

You must use all of the magic words and use them in this order. You must memorize and practice the magic words. During a stop, the police will not always tell you your rights or help you understand them. In fact, they are trained to harass, scare, and trick you into giving up your rights. You have to be strong while they get in your face and insult you. They are even allowed to lie. Do not believe them. Say the magic words, follow police orders, and shut up!

How do the magic words work?

The first question, "Am I free to go," clarifies if you are being detained or not. If you are being detained, the police cannot ask you questions without reading you your rights, just like on the TV cop shows. If they do not read you your rights, your lawyer can use this against them in court.

The second statement, "I do not consent to any searches," is critical. The cops are not allowed to just search you for any reason. They have to meet certain requirements like having probable cause or a warrant. Even if they have a warrant, they can only search within certain limits. For example, if the warrant is for plants, they cannot necessarily search drawers. But if you give consent, you are giving permission to search everywhere. Never consent to any searches! It will never help you or get the cops to go easy on you. If they need consent then they have nothing else against you so don't give it to them. If the police think they do not need consent, they will go ahead and search after you say the magic words. Stand out of the way and be quiet while they search. Maybe they find something maybe they don't.

"I want to remain silent," is one of the trickier magic words. The Supreme Court has declared that in order to use your right to remain silent, you must first speak up and say you want to remain silent. After you say it, the police are still allowed to continue to question and harass you. You must not speak up and if you do, you have to say "I want to remain silent," all over again. For some reason, the Supreme Court thinks this is all very easy to do during a police encounter.

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http://www.fireduplawyer.com

http://www.fireduplawyer.com

Lauren A. Vazquez is the Fired Up Lawyer. She has been working to expand safe access and end cannabis prohibition for nearly a decade. Lauren offers legal services to members of the California medical cannabis industry and pro bono phone consultations for patients. The information available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.

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The police don't have time or desire to stop ever... by Alejandro “EL CONDOR” Arce on Thursday, Jan 2, 2014 at 12:50:10 PM
It does not always work to be courteous and polite... by Gloria Grening Wolk on Saturday, Jan 4, 2014 at 10:00:28 AM
I hope you are not implying that the police are in... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Saturday, Jan 4, 2014 at 3:21:51 PM
This is a good article.  Thanks for writing a... by Jeff Bell on Thursday, Jan 2, 2014 at 1:27:47 PM
Valuable article and two good comments. In gener... by Paul Repstock on Thursday, Jan 2, 2014 at 6:54:13 PM
I agree that we need to keep in mind that police a... by Neal Chalabi Chambers on Saturday, Jan 4, 2014 at 3:26:14 PM
The one place you are most likely to have to inte... by mrk * on Friday, Jan 3, 2014 at 9:23:37 AM
Illegal stops by police occur most often when they... by Gloria Grening Wolk on Saturday, Jan 4, 2014 at 9:54:30 AM