Looking in your rear-view mirror or out the window at a friend’s party, you see the flashing red and blue lights of a police car. Shortly after, there is an assertive knocking at the front door, a flashlight or high beams shining brightly in your face, and the iconic uniform and badge of an officer with a not-so-happy look on their face. Anyone familiar with this scene knows how intimidating and scary an encounter with the police can be, but what they might not know are the legal rights they are entitled to and can assert during such situations.
The Associated Students Legal Information Center will host “Busted: A Student Guide to Legal Rights” on Monday, Oct. 22nd from 7–9 p.m. in Academic West 204. The event is free for all students.
Two Bellingham attorneys will facilitate a 30-minute presentation regarding commonly overlooked legal rights and provide students with the information needed to assert them. The remainder of the event will consist of a question and answer period.
Attorney Sean McKee will present at the event and said he hopes to provide a general overview on certain legal rights that are applicable to students including those associated with DUIs, MIPs and possession of marijuana.
“It’s not my goal to tell people how to break the law, but if they’re faced with this kind of thing, it’s confusing and I think it would be good to know what the possible consequences are,” McKee said.
McKee said that one of the biggest mistakes students make during police encounters is not exercising the right to remain silent. He said that people can always choose not to answer a police officer’s questions, and that doing so usually makes it easier on all parties if a case goes to trial and ensures that an individual doesn’t incriminate themselves.
“People don’t understand how to exercise the right to remain silent,” McKee said. “A lot of times when faced with questions they don’t want to answer, people will lie. Lying to an officer is a new crime.”
Not only is lying to an officer a crime, McKee said, it is a false statement charge, which is an impeachable offense in court. This mean that during trial, in which your criminal history is usually kept out, impeachable offenses such as theft, false statement and forgery charges are allowed to be used against you.
The Legal Information Center Coordinator, Rachel Cochran said that while this event will teach students on how to best avoid negative legal situation, there is a large emphasis on respecting police.
“If you’re respectful, the cop can come to court and say that you were really good. If you are disrespectful, they’re going to have no interest in acting in your interest,” Cochran said. “It’s just really important to respect the police. They have a really dangerous and unsafe job.”
McKee said that most criminal trials are settled in pre-trial processes through negotiations with the prosecuting attorney, who works hand-in-hand with the police. If you are rude and disrespectful to an officer, he said, it will paint a negative picture in court and the chances of getting a good deal are greatly diminished.
“It may not help you hugely, but being rude to an officer is definitely going to hurt,” McKee said. “There are ways to do everything that you want to do politely, respectfully and you can absolutely assert all your rights without having to curse at anybody or make it an ugly situation.”