Activism and Advocacy: Know Your Rights
The420TimesStaff | Aug 20, 2012 | Comments 0
By Sarah Diesel
Be Loud and Proud!
Knowing your rights under the law is imperative when interacting with the police. The 420 Times’ Sarah Diesel gives us some 411 to make sure you don’t get pinched when speaking out about medical marijuana.
Summertime in the city! The sun is shining and the birds are singing! Just because it is summer and you are on vacation does not mean you stop being a cannabis activist. This includes handling unpleasant situations such as police encounters. Whether you are driving to a concert, at a party or even in the privacy of your own home it imperative that cannabis activists know their rights!
Flex Your Rights is an educational nonprofit organization, which was launched in 2002. Their mission is “to educate the public about how basic Bill of Rights protections apply during encounters with law enforcement.” They have a wonderful video, 10 Rules for Dealing with the Police, available on their website as well as important information to know when it comes to staying safe. Visit www.flexyourrights.org for more information.
The Midnight Special Law Collective was an “independent non-profit organization, dedicated to providing legal trainings and accessible, relevant, democratic and accountable legal support to a wide range of activists participating in the struggle for social change.” Although Midnight Special Law Collective has disbanded as of July 2010, their website www.midnightspecial.net has some fabulous know your rights materials.
In order to be taken seriously it is important we show the public that cannabis activists are intelligent citizens — and well informed. Doing your research is an important part of cannabis activism. As always, I urge you to read everything you can about understanding your rights as a citizen and cannabis activist.
Here is a simple guide to keep you safe this summer:
3 Levels of police encounter:
Conversation – This is typically a casual encounter and friendly conversation, but it can quickly result in them getting enough information to detain you. Typically, you might hear the officer saying, “Nice weather today! Where you coming from? What’s in your bag?” Politely avoid giving any information, and you can ask, “Am I being detained, or am I free to go?”, but after that only say the magic words. (We’ll go over these in a moment.)
Detention – At this point, you have asked if you are free to leave and they have said no. Police must have reasonable suspicion to detain you. You aren’t arrested, but cannot leave and cops can do a weapons pat-down. An officer will attempt to have someone of the same sex perform the search. Also, when you are pulled over for speeding you are detained, but may be arrested for a separate crime.
Arrest – Cops must have probable cause to arrest you, but once they have decided to arrest you they can fully search you and your possessions. An officer strip-searching you must be the same gender as you.
Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause:
Reasonable suspicion: Must be based on more than a hunch. Cops can’t stop someone for looking suspicious, unless they can come up with something specific.
Probably cause: This requires even more evidence.
Unfortunately, smell can be reasonable suspicion but not probable cause unless combined with other evidence, like a pipe or container of medicine.
Reasonable Suspicion = Detention,
Probable Cause = Arrest
“I’m going to remain silent and want to see a lawyer.”
Whenever the cops ask you something besides your name and address ALWAYS say the magic words. Even though they are legally obligated to stop interrogating you once you say this, they probably won’t stop, so keep repeating this phrase. Even if you start talking, you can revert to saying the magic words and remaining silent. I know it sounds a little silly, but remember your Miranda Rights.
Miranda Rights (a.k.a. Miranda warnings): “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”
Please understand that the police do not have to read your rights to you unless they are interrogating you in custody. However, police are trained to violate the Miranda rights and even when your rights have been violated they can hold things against you. This is why it is better to invoke your rights instead of waiting for the police to inform you of them.
“I do not consent to a search!”
Do not consent to a search! Do not consent to a search! Did I mention do not consent to a search?
If police try to search your home, car, bag, pockets, etc. say “I do not consent to this search.” If they insist, do NOT resist but keep repeating.
Be careful not to inadvertently give consent to a search, such as leaving a door open after getting out of the car or saying things like, “I’d rather you didn’t search.” It needs to be more direct and clear for the officer to hear you as well as people nearby, that may end up being witnesses for you.
If you do not consent to a search the results of the search cannot be used against you in court. There are often physical signs of illegal searches.
Remember that a cop has to ask if he can search because he does not have the right to do so!
Refusing a search from a police officer is not legal basis for detainment.
Under-covers, Informants, Snitches, Infiltrators – watch out for these people at events!
Undercover: An officer in plain clothes. Undercover police officers do not have to admit they are officers when asked. They can smoke with you and get hazard pay to do so. They can lie and break the law.
Informants: A person who provides privileged information about a person or organization to an agency.
Snitches: Someone who snitches to lessen their sentence and is sometimes made to be an informant.
Infiltrators: Someone who takes up a position surreptitiously for the purpose of espionage.
Phone calls from jail:
Phones in jails only call collect to land lines or cell phones (but the recipient must have a credit card). For this reason, you must have at least a few land line numbers memorized. I suggest your lawyer, a bail bonds agent and a pre-arranged “emergency person” who can check on your house, kids, pets, bail you out, etc.
Do not forget all calls while in custody can be monitored. Don’t say anything on the phone you don’t want a jury to hear.
Do not talk to anyone while in jail because there could be snitches. Just be calm and wait to be bailed out.
When a citizen knows their rights, it makes for an uncomfortable encounter, because cops are usually not trained to deal with an informed activist. You might want to consider some practice interactions ahead of time — and keep it as calm and concise as possible. Gather some friends and family and role play trading off being the police. If the real situation ever happens you will be confident and more than likely to sleep in your own bed that night.