Attourney tells students to exercise their rights

By Winyan Soo Hoo

If students do not know their rights or exercise them, they may lose them, said Mark Lipton, a shareholder and attorney of Meyer Capel, a law firm serving the Urbana-Champaign community.

Lipton answered questions from the audience after a film viewing of Busted!: A Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters. The student chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) sponsored the screening at the Chemical Annex Wednesday evening.

Carolyn Sundlof, junior in FAA and president of SSDP, said it is important for students to understand their rights in case they are ever questioned by the police.

“People need to know how to protect themselves,” Sundlof said. “This country provides us with rights as citizens, but where does the education come in? We’re never educated of our rights.”

The film presented different examples of what people can do when confronted by police. The film also gave examples of what people should not do when confronted by the police.

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In one scenario of the film, a group of friends were stopped by a police officer for speeding and on suspicion of drug possession. The film suggested that the driver should remain calm. The driver should place his hands on the steering wheel, open the window partway and greet the police officer with a question, rather than admit to speeding. The driver also reserves the right to refuse a search. Police cannot search someone without probable cause or a warrant if they have not been arrested, Lipton said.

“They can use trickery and deceit to get you to give up your rights,” Lipton said. “It takes courage to assert those rights. What have you got to gain from consenting the truth?”

The police also need a basis and probable cause to justify a pat down. Instead of lying, the film suggested that people do not have to answer to the police.

“If an officer asks, ‘Did you have any alcohol tonight?,’ and if you said ‘No,’ – you lied,” Lipton said. “Refusing to answer the question is your best choice.”

The driver can end with the question, “Am I free to go?” to be dismissed from the encounter.

“You have to be careful in your treatment to the police,” Lipton said. “You have to treat them with respect, even if they may be jerks because you will lose the arguments.”

For house parties, the film suggested that people should be aware of guests and mindful of all entrances. If police come to the door, people should greet them outside and close the door behind them.

However, there are exceptions to refusing a search. The film suggested that people should keep “private items private,” as there is a “plain view” rule where police officers can see what you have and then require a search. If the police officer sees anything illegal, they can seize it as evidence. However, police do not need a search warrant at airports or international borders.

Lipton said the film offered advice he gives to his clients all the time; however, the advice is given after they had “(given) up their rights.”

Lipton also said people can refuse to take a field sobriety test because the test, which can consist of walking in a straight line with arms close to the body, is hard to pass even when not intoxicated.

Lipton also said that by Illinois law, people must show their identification when asked. If the identification card is fake, the police will seize the card and send it to the Illinois Secretary of State, where the situation will be recorded and put on a criminal file.

Though the film was meant to inform students of their rights, Lipton said he does not condone the use of drugs or driving while intoxicated.

Plamena Todorova, freshman in LAS, said she came to the event to learn how to deal with the police. Todorova said she recently experienced a police encounter where she was asked by the police to search her room. She exercised her rights by refusing, and she advises other students to do the same.

“Don’t ever think it’s not going to work,” Todorova said. “You can always exercise your rights.”