Wednesday, August 20, 2014

99 Problems - Part Two - Bad Boys - Bad Boys - Whatcha Gonna Do? Plus, a Ferguson Aside...

search and seizure, canine sniffNow, we've discussed Jay-Z's 99 Problems, so we'll move onto your problems, questions and concerns when and if a police officer were to stop you on the streets of Bloomington, Indiana, or any other Indiana town.  So, whatcha gonna do when the police approach you?  First of all, the information provided in Bloomington's pamphlet is neither all bad, nor all wrong. In fact, it is always a good idea to keep a level head and a calm, polite demeanor with the police. The sentiment behind the advice in the pamphlet is correct and good. As your mom may have told you, you catch more flies with honey. However, when dealing with the police, there is an extra, added aspect. You have constitutional rights. You have no obligation to allow the police to search you, your vehicle, or your home. While the police may obtain reasonable suspicion to search you for guns, or probable cause to search your car for illegal drugs, etc., you have no duty to allow or consent to any search. In fact, if you consent to a search, whether the police had the ability to search, or not, may not matter in later proceedings, as your consent allows them to do the search.  You may politely decline to allow a search, and if the police do so anyway, they will have to prove, if they find anything illegal on your person, in your vehicle or in your home, that the search was valid.

If you get pulled over for operating while intoxicated, you can elect to cooperate and undergo a blood alcohol breath test, or you can elect not to do so. Should you elect not to, your license may be suspended, as the pamphlet instructs, and you will not likely be treated well.  However, if you had been drinking, and you're beyond the legal limit, your license will be suspended anyway.  Thus, you may not be doing yourself any favors by cooperating in taking the breath test.  (However, if you do not consent, the police may obtain a search warrant for your blood, if they have probable cause to do so, and if your test is above the legal limit, and police have done everything correctly, you will not likely get a great plea deal from the prosecuting attorney's office.)

Thus, Bloomington's pamphlet does provide some good information, but in a manner greatly skewed in favor of the police.  This blogger believes any government agency, of the City, State or Federal government, should put out information in pamphlets that accurately and adequately depict rights, rather than skew them toward said agency. 

Part Two of this Blog series has taken a while. In the wake of #Ferguson, this blogger decided to take a break on discussing rights and the police. However, life goes on, and unfortunately, so does unrest in Ferguson, and elsewhere in the United States.  In an aside, this blogger, a former Missourian, would like to express sorrow and anger at the events currently occurring in the Ferguson area, and would like to send peace and healing thoughts to all involved.

In light of recent events, it is difficult to provide guidance on how to deal with daily encounters with the police. No police encounter is the same, and nothing each individual officer experiences in encounters with the public is the same. Just as the Bloomington police department apparently pledges to act with mutual respect, so should its citizens. However, mutual respect does not entail giving up rights that form the bedrock of our country.  Sometimes, we all become too involved in what is going on to remember that.

As the events in Ferguson unfold, this blogger sees reports of hurt and angry citizens reacting, sharing feelings and protesting, and other citizens taking advantage of the situation and resorting to looting and violence.  On the other hand, this blogger sees reports of law enforcement reacting sometimes in kind, attempting to ensure protesters and those grieving publicly are protected, but more notably and dangerously, acting with an extreme, militaristic stance.  Without being  at ground zero in Ferguson, this blogger cannot comment on the rights, wrongs, injustices, etc., but she can, with heavy heart say this, after several years of prosecutorial experience in the State of Missouri, there are many good officers who intend to do the right thing, as there are many good citizens in Missouri, trying to do the right thing, to express themselves, guarantee their rights, and live in what we all purport to believe is a free and equal society.  But, everyone is human and fallible.  No one makes the right choices every time, everyday.  And, in each segment of humanity, whether officers, attorneys, prosecutors, factory workers, Caucasian people, African American people, Asian people, or others of differing ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, genders, religions, etc., there are those who will do wrong.  The 99 problems can be summed up into one - it's what we citizens do in the face of adversity that takes our measure.  Right now, our measure is not adding up in Ferguson, Missouri or other places around the globe.  Hopefully, the aftermath of this terrible turn of events will allow for significant discussion, reformation, and healing.

*The opinions expressed are of the blogger only and were not intended as legal advice or as an avenue to open a lawyer-client relationship.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

99 Problems and the Cops May be One -- Bloomington v. Jay-Z -- A Two Part Series

bloomington, Indiana; southern indiana
Don't Let Confusion about your Rights be One

Part One -  Bloomington v. Jay-Z

The City of Bloomington, Indiana, in conjunction with the Commission on the Status of Black Males, recently published a pamphlet about Everyday Encounters with the Police.  This pamphlet prompted a return to blogging for this blogger.

The pamphlet, admittedly, has some good advice. It also has very skewed information that could be misleading to the citizens of Bloomington, hiding under the guise of official information. The City very carefully indicates that the pamphlet is not legal advice, but it comes from the City and very obviously has ties to the police department.

While some of the advice is good and advisable, much of it is misleading.  For the purposes of Part One of this series, this blogger only comments on good general advice provided.  That general advice provided by the pamphlet is essentially, be polite and courteous in dealings with the police.  Whether you are going to cooperate with the police in questioning, or not, doing so, or declining, in a manner that is non-confrontational, would reflect best upon you in any future proceedings.

In discussing rights when encountering police, a nod of the head to Jay-Z is in order, as his anthem, 99 problems, is actually another sort of "pamphlet" elucidating certain aspects of the Fourth Amendment regarding specific police encounters, like stops, searches and seizures, all of which are addressed in Bloomington's new pamphlet.  Like the City of Bloomington, Jay-Z gives some helpful insight, and sometimes gets it right. In fact, there is even a dated law review article analyzing the second verse of 99 Problems, attempting to use the music mogul's lyrics to loosely analyze the Fourth Amendment, exhibiting where Jay-Z gets it right, and where his theories depart from Fourth Amendment interpretation.

The moral of the story is, neither the City of Bloomington, nor the empire-building rap/hip hop music magnate provide an accurate depiction of your rights.  Your rights reside in the middle of the spectrum and are not as clear cut as either party would make them.  Stay tuned for Part Two of this Series, "Bad Boys".  In Part Two, this blogger will discuss your basic and general rights when encountering the police.

*The opinions expressed are of the blogger only and were not intended as legal advice or as an avenue to open a lawyer-client relationship.