Category Archives: Know Your Rights

Police Kill Seventeen Year Old: How Much Is Enough?

Reason’s Radley Balko reveals another disturbing story of America’s increasing police force gone awry:

Last Sunday night, police in Morganton, North Carolina shot and killed 17-year-old Michael Sipes. The officers were responding to a noise complaint called in by a neighbor in the mobile home park where Sipes lived. His mother says there were three children in the home on the night Sipes was killed, and were likely he source of the complaint.

According to Sipes’ mother and others in the house, the police repeatedly knocked on the door to the home, but never identified themselves. They say both Sipes and his mother asked more than once who was outside. A neighbor who heard the gunshots also says he never heard the police identify themselves. Police officials say the officers did identify themselves.

According to those in the trailer at the time, as the knocks continued, Sipes retrieved a rifle, opened the door, and stepped outside. That’s when Morganton Public Safety Officer Johnny David Cooper II shot Sipes in the stomach “four or five times.”

More here and here. Profile of Sipes here. The story is still fresh, but at first blush he certainly doesn’t seem like the kind of kid who would knowingly confront police officers with his rifle.

Of course, beyond this story we saw the Oakland murder of Oscar Grant, the shooting death by police of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnson in Atlanta and the terrorizing of a Missouri family and the killing of their dog during a drug raid (a crime which was replicated several times). This is really unacceptable.

Why is this not becoming an electoral issue? Police have various means at their disposal to nullify suspects and yet story after story of unnecessary lethal force seems to pop up. Republican, Democrat or any party, the candidate who runs on restoring the Fourth Amendment and focussing on law enforcement that prioritizes enforcing laws over terrorizing citizens will get my vote.

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Ohio Supreme Court Speeding Ruling Lowers Burden of Proof and Opens the Door Civil Liberty Abuse by Police

Most of us have been pulled over and issued a ticket for speeding or other moving violations at least once in our lives. It’s probably also fair to say that in many if not most cases; we don’t even bother to challenge the ticket because the patrolman says that his radar gun reading showed that you were driving over the speed limit.

There are other times, however less common, which we don’t necessarily agree with the patrolman’s assessment of the facts (example: you failed to come to a complete stop). According to our system, suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law; the government has the burden to prove that an individual violated a law (anything ranging from jaywalking to murder).

At least that’s what I thought.

Jim Hickey for ABC News writes:

The state’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the trained eyeballs of police officers are enough to hand out speeding tickets. A radar gun is unnecessary.

Some Ohio drivers were stunned. One woman called it “crazy,” adding that “just the radar gun itself is disputable.”

This unidentified woman from the article is right to be skeptical of the technologies the police use. I once received a ticket in the mail from one of those photo radar cameras. According to the ticket, my wife was driving the family minivan by herself in the HOV lane. There was one slight problem though: not only was my wife not driving alone but every single seat in the vehicle was occupied! We knew this ticket was bogus because this particular stretch of highway is one we almost never drive and the one time we did take this particular stretch of highway according to the date it was taken was when my parents were in the vehicle*.

But even as these technologies are disputable, the notion of humans are prone to error is not…except for 5 of 6 judges on the Ohio Supreme Court. The article continues:

In its ruling upholding that conviction, the Ohio Supreme Court said “a police officer’s unaided visual estimation of a vehicle’s speed is sufficient evidence to support a conviction for speeding … if the officer is properly trained.”

In this case, the court ruled, the office was properly trained and certified to eyeball speeding motorists. The court added in its ruling that a radar gun “is not necessary to support a conviction for speeding.”

[…]

But one dissenting judge argued that the ruling creates too broad a standard for jurors who must evaluate police testimony. He said the ruling “eclipses the role of the fact-finder to reject such testimony” which, by itself, may not be enough to support a conviction.

I share the dissenting judge’s opinion but I fear that this ruling is even worse that what is stated in this article. We may tend to think of speeding tickets as trivial matters but they really are not. Speeding tickets often means higher insurance premiums and points against an individual’s license. For those who drive for a living and are required to have a CDL, having too many speeding tickets can result in losing his or her livelihood.

In saying that a police officer’s judgment that an individual is speeding is as good as radar gun gives the police virtually unchecked authority and opens the door for future abuse. Radar guns, whether defective or not, are at the very least objective. The same cannot be said for human judgment (trained or not).

Ohio police can now pull over someone for no reason at all, lie about his or her rights, and threaten to write a speeding ticket if the motorist fails to ‘cooperate.’ Some motorists might think it wise to make audio and/or video recordings of any such interaction with the police to ensure such abuses are documented or prevented but as Radley Balko reports, this can have its own set of risks.**

The real ugly truth of the matter is that traffic citations aren’t really as much about safety as they are about revenue. Most states, counties, and cities are seemingly having financial difficulties; it’s in the best interests of these entities to collect as much revenue as possible. With this sort of perverse incentive in place, practically anyone who drives in Ohio can be found guilty of speeding – not beyond a reasonable doubt but merely beyond a reasonable guess.

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Flex Your Rights Presents: 10 Rules for Dealing with Police

The Bill of Rights provides citizens basic protections against unlawful searches and seizures via the Fourth Amendment, protections against self incrimination via the Fifth Amendment, and the right to an attorney via the Sixth Amendment. On a theoretical level, most people probably know this but what does this mean on a practical level?

If the police pull you over, are you required to answer the officer’s questions if he hasn’t informed you of your right to remain silent? What does “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion” mean when a police officer wants to search your vehicle and do you have a right to refuse the search? Should you consent to the search if you know you have nothing to hide? If the police knock on your front door, are you legally required to let them in if they don’t have a warrant? Are the police legally required to tell the truth or can they make false promises or otherwise trick you into waiving your constitutionally protected civil rights?

If you are unsure about the answers to these questions, don’t feel bad; I wasn’t too sure myself. The 4 part video series 10 Rules for Dealing with Police from the group that calls itself Flex Your Rights answers these questions and more in terms a lay person like myself can easily understand. Some of the advice is common sense (see rules 1, 7, & 8 below) while others are more legal in nature.

Whether you are a “law abiding citizen” who almost never has an encounter with the police or a “cop magnet,” this advice not only could keep you from being in serious legal trouble but also keep you from being beaten, tazered, or shot (if you follow these rules and these things still happen, you have more legal recourse against offending officers).

If you don’t have time to watch these videos right away, here are the 10 Rules for Dealing with Police in brief:

1. Always be calm and cool. [Don’t give the police any reason to act aggressively; they do have a very dangerous job and if they feel threatened they are more likely to act aggressively].

2. You [always] have the right to remain silent. [The best way to assert this right, especially if the police insist on questioning you is by asserting your Sixth Amendment right to legal council and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT until your lawyer advises you otherwise].

3. You have the right to refuse searches. [Assert this right by calmly and politely telling the police officer “I don’t consent to searches”].

4. Don’t get tricked. [Yes, the police can legally lie to you and trick you into waiving your civil rights].

5. Determine if you are free to go. [Ask the officer: “Are you detaining me or am I free to go?”].

6. Don’t expose yourself. [Don’t do anything that might appear suspicious in public].

7. Don’t run. [Running from the police is never a good idea].

8. Never touch a cop. [The simplest touch of a police officer can be considered assault; don’t do it].

9. Report misconduct: be a good witness.

10. You don’t have to let them in. [You do not have to let the police in your home unless they have a search warrant or there is an emergency which requires immediate action on their part. If you allow them to enter, anything they might find that could incriminate you can be used against you because you unwittingly waived your Fourth Amendment rights].

Here’s the series in its entirety (parts 2-4 are below the fold).

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