Tag Archives: rights

Know your rights


By: Jeremy Rick

An ancient Chinese safe named Lao Tzu once said: “He who knows, does not speak.”In the words of Bellingham-based attorney Sean McKee: “The right to remain silent is the best piece of legal advice anyone could get.”

Whatcom Community College recently held a discussion on interacting with law enforcement officers. McKee, alongside fellow attorneys Aaron Lukoff and Jeffrey Lustick, and Bellingham police officer Todd Osborn, relayed legal pointers to attendees at the April 22 “Know Your Rights” event in Heiner Auditorium.

“If you take nothing else out of this forum, do not waive your rights,” Lustick said in his opening remarks.

One must, however, understand the rights individuals are ensured under Washington state law in order to heed Lustick’s words.

“The hardest thing I ever do is defend an innocent person,” Lustick said, adding that “sometimes they dig a hole deeper, and deeper, and deeper.”

Innocent people often “admit too much” and mistakenly incriminate themselves because there is a lack of legal education available to the public, McKee said.

“There is, generally, just no education about it,” he said, and researching the law alone “can be hard to decipher.”

Further complicating the matter, police are not required to be honest with civilians.

“I can lie to you if I want,” Officer Osborn said. “I can use a reasonable ruse.”

This is a tactic Lustick described as using “certain mental prods to get you to admit something.” These dishonest interactions can be avoided by knowing and utilizing the rights Washington guarantees to individuals, and the “Know Your Rights” event was an opportunity for attendees to gain this knowledge from formally educated lawyers.

“As lawyers, our job is to be the hammer of truth, the hammer of justice,” said Lukoff. With that in mind, Lukoff and his colleagues offered three steps for handling most police interactions.

“The first words out of your mouth should be, ‘Can I help you?’” Lustick said. “The next question should be, ‘Am I detained?’” Then, “ask to speak to a lawyer,” and refrain from answering any questions.

Police “must stop questioning you” at this point, otherwise it “will be considered coercive,” Lustick said, which is inadmissible in court.

“There are on-call public defenders 24 hours a day,” McKee said, ready to assist in these circumstances.

McKee said people often think they will appear guilty if they ask for a lawyer and decline answering questions. He disagrees, and suggests that people refuse answering questions at all costs.

“If you don’t play the game, you can’t lose,” he said. This tidbit of advice is especially applicable when a police officer asks to search a car that smells like marijuana.

“Odor by itself is insufficient” without permission from the owner, McKee said. “Simply, do not consent to a search.”

In response to the refusal of a search, police may threaten to use the “hard way,” McKee said, which would involve utilizing K-9 units and search warrants.

“Go with the hard way,” he said, because police “have to get probable cause for a warrant.”

To obtain a warrant, an officer must contact a judge and provide them with information that suggests probable cause for investigating possible criminal activity. Then, the judge must sign a warrant granting the officer permission to search private property, such as a car or home.

If an officer suspects someone of being under the influence of marijuana, alcohol, or other drugs while driving, they may ask the driver to

perform a field sobriety test.

“Field sobriety tests have not been designed for marijuana,” Lukoff said. “The only way they can find out [if someone has been smoking marijuana] is blood tests,” and “a blood-draw is a search-and-seizure under the Fourth Amendment,” which would require a warrant.

In the case of alcohol, Lukoff and McKee suggest refusing sobriety tests and mobile Breathalyzers, but consenting to the use of a blood-alcohol content (BAC) machine at the police station.

“The best thing to do [is not to] volunteer,” McKee said, and added that people should comply when it is necessary, but it is not necessary to comply with every request from an officer, and that is why it is important to “invoke your rights.”

As Lukoff put it, “Be polite, don’t lie to them, but don’t answer any questions.”

“I strongly recommend, under no circumstances you waive your right to be silent,” Lustick said.



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Letter from the Editor

Photo by Shaylee Vigil
Photo by Shaylee Vigil

When the Bill of Rights was ratified more than 200 years ago, it established the basic freedoms most Americans take for granted today. Our First Amendment rights allow us to express ourselves, share ideas, and collaborate freely.

While we know that freedom of speech is a fundamental part of our identity as a nation, many Americans do not have a clear idea of what this means in practice. People assume that the phrase “freedom of speech” means they can say whatever they want without consequence.

When people experience repercussions as a result of things they have said, they expect to be protected under the First Amendment.

This right is often used as a wall to hide behind when people want to say rude or offensive things without consequence. While this freedom does protect people’s right to voice their opinion, no matter how ignorant it may be, it does not protect them from others reacting negatively.

Recently, a Florida high school teacher tweeted profane and obscene comments about President Obama. Weeks later, Obama came to give a speech at the same school. The teacher was, unsurprisingly, not invited to attend.

Outraged, he sent letters about the “attempt to discredit or embarrass [him], quite possibly by school administrators, the Secret Service, or the President,” to news outlets such as Fox and local TV stations as well as his senator and congresswoman. He believed he was being excluded for his political views and that he was “singled out for using [his] right to free speech.” He demanded a public apology for the percieved discrimination.

Similarly, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin rushed to defend Phil Roberston from the TV show “Duck Dynasty” after he made homophobic comments and was subsequently suspended from the show. She wrote, “free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

These are both perfect examples of people saying rude, profane, and ugly things and then getting upset when it comes back to bite them.

Having the right to free speech does not mean you can say extremely offensive things and not deal with the repercussions. Freedom of speech does not give you the right to say offensive things in your workplace and then take your boss to court when you get fired.

Having the right to free speech means you can make your opinion publicly known and not get thrown in prison for it. The First Amendment only protects you from legal consequences. You are free to express yourself and your views, but you must be prepared to deal with how others react to them.

-Taylor Nichols


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