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Civil Rights

Posted By Emily Ghant (Johnson), Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, February 11, 2015

PROTECTING YOUR CIVIL RIGHTS WHEN INTERACTING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT

I frequently get calls from individuals who want to know what the police can and cannot do.  Can they search my car? Can they search me? Can they force me to show identification?  Do they have to read me my rights? When can I be arrested? These are just a few of the many questions people have about their interaction with law enforcement.  Prior to addressing these issues, it is prudent to mention of a couple of ways to help avoid problems with the police.

Don’t ever force a confrontation with the police

Even if you believe you are 100% correct, do not antagonize police officers. Much like any profession there are some good officers and some bad officers, but they all have a job to do.  The quickest way to find yourself injured “resisting arrest” is to challenge the police and tell them what they can and cannot do.  You might be armed with your constitutional rights, but they are armed with guns, mace, tasers and batons.  If you feel your rights are being violated, do not physically resist the police but do state calmly and clearly that you do not give permission or consent to a search of your body, car, house, etc. The best place to vigorously fight violations of your constitutional rights is the courthouse, not on the roadside.

 

Do not leave your vehicle (unless ordered by the police

 

Traffics stops are dangerous for the police and can be for you as well. Never leave

your vehicle voluntarily even if you have a good reason.  The police do not know you and do not know your intentions and will likely fear the worst.  I had a client rushing to the hospital after he was advised his dad had a stroke.  He sped through a speed trap and an officer pursued him.  He pulled over and immediately got out of his car to explain himself to the officer.  The officer calls for back up and screams at my client to get back in his vehicle.  My client yells back about his father, but the officer continues to order him back into his vehicle.  The other officers from the speed trap arrive and they take my client down on the concrete and he hits his head.  My client’s brother gets out to see what is going on and he is thrown up against the vehicle.  This situation could have easily been avoided by both sides.  The key thing to remember is the police can’t read your mind and will assume you are a threat if you leave your vehicle.

 

1) Can the police force me to show identification?

Georgia is not a strict “stop and identify” state and ties the identification request in with the loitering statute.  Georgia Code § 16-11-36 states the following:

(a) A person commits the offense of loitering or prowling when he is in a place at a time or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals under circumstances that warrant a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity.

(b) Among the circumstances which may be considered in determining whether alarm is warranted is the fact that the person takes flight upon the appearance of a law enforcement officer, refuses to identify himself, or manifestly endeavors to conceal himself or any object. Unless flight by the person or other circumstances make it impracticable, a law enforcement officer shall, prior to any arrest for an offense under this Code section, afford the person an opportunity to dispel any alarm or immediate concern which would otherwise be warranted by requesting the person to identify himself and explain his presence and conduct. No person shall be convicted of an offense under this Code section if the law enforcement officer failed to comply with the foregoing procedure or if it appears at trial that the explanation given by the person was true and would have dispelled the alarm or immediate concern.

            Although this seems somewhat clear, the language of the statute allows for many ambiguous situations to qualify as a time when identification is required.  It is likely in your best interest to produce identification if requested by law enforcement to avoid further more invasive inquiries and confrontation.

2) When can I be stopped and searched?

Generally, the Fourth Amendment requires that the police have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed before stopping a suspect.  If the police reasonably suspect the person is armed and dangerous, they may conduct a quick pat-down of the person’s outer clothing.   

3) Do the police have to read me my rights?

            Yes, they do.  However, the remedy for this type of violation is the suppression of any information that incriminates you or others in your criminal trial.

As a final thought, racial profiling exists. People in general judge you based on how you look and act.  Law enforcement is no different.  Young black males are disproportionately represented as both victims and offenders of homicides.  If you're a young, black male, chances are that you will be stopped by law enforcement officers even when you haven't done anything wrong. If stopped by law enforcement for no reason, keep in mind the following to ensure your safety. When stopped, assume a non-threatening position with your hands visible. If ordered out of your vehicle, be calm, speak clearly and stay in front of the police car if you can as this is usually where the video is pointed. Do not antagonize or confront the officer.  If your rights are being violated, that can be addressed in court where the playing field is more level.  You can also file a complaint with the police department.

 

Matt Gebhardt is an attorney in the Atlanta area who pursues cases for those whose civil rights have been violated.  The above information is in the form of general guidelines intended to inform the reader and is not intended as legal advice.

***If you think that your civil rights may have been violated, please call Atlanta Bar Association's Lawyer Referral & Information Service at 404-521-0777 for a referral to the proper attorney!*** 

Tags:  black male  civil rights  constitution  law enforcement  legal  LRIS  miranda rights  officer  police  search  violated  violation 

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