Just say NO to police searches, read the brochures.
On the screen, an officer jumps out of his car, donning Mountie-style hat and mirrored sunglasses. He slides a hefty baton into his belt and marches up to the car parked a few feet away, where a couple of teenagers are about to get arrested.
A question and answer session with a criminal defense attorney followed a viewing of BUSTED: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters at the Orange and Brew on the University of Florida campus Wednesday evening. Flex Your Rights, distributor of the video and corresponding brochures, provides educational material relevant to constitutional rights. Approximately 30 students gathered to find out how to deal with police encounters and protect their rights as citizens. The event was hosted by the Reitz Union Board and the Libertarian Activist Network (LAN) at UF.
Criminal defense attorney and UF graduate Toby Olvera spoke to the group after the screening and answered questions. He agreed with many of the points made in the video, but stated that the law is not always clear.
“There’s a difference between what the police can do and what they will do,” Olvera said. “Protecting your rights isn’t going to be easy or get you off scot-free. But in about 90% of the cases I’ve worked on, mostly younger people involved in drug crimes, if people had just shut up they’d have walked away.”
Olvera was a prosecutor before he “grew a conscience” and switched to defense. He currently works for Norris & Foreman, P.A., a law firm that specializes in personal injury and wrongful death cases. He welcomed students’ questions, but hedged, “I can’t help you with your personal situations; if you ask me about hypotheticals, I’ll answer those questions.”
Several students asked questions about or related experiences with DUIs, legal searches and drug crimes. Some were more skilled than others at phrasing their stories hypothetically.
He warned students about the importance of avoiding drug-related convictions, because they risk losing their financial aid.
“Don’t fight” and “be quiet,” was Olvera’s advice for coping with cops.
The video reviewed three scenarios: being pulled over in a car, being stopped on the street and searching a home. Ira Glasser, narrator and former executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), recommends tactics that protect these rights: don’t resist, don’t answer questions and don’t consent to searches.
He emphasizes the importance of the Bill of Rights, specifying three amendments that citizens unwittingly give up during a conflict with police officers.
The Fourth Amendment protects a citizen’s right against searches without probable cause. The Fifth Amendment states that no citizen can be forced to testify against himself or herself and the Sixth Amendment ensures that citizens have access to legal counsel.
“It’s cheesy as hell,” said Claudia Murray, secretary of the Libertarian Party of Alachua County, referring to the stereotypes in the video. “But it really shows how the cops try to get you to give up your rights and how you can protect yourself.”The Libertarian Party of Alachua County often works with LAN at UF to educate students.
Murray warned students that although the video recommended stepping outside and closing the door to speak with police officers, “GPD [Gainesville Police Department] is not shy about peeking in when you open the door.”
Chris Arias, 19, is a student at Santa Fe Community College. He was helping LAN at UF with the event, hoping to learn enough to start a similar group at SFCC. LAN at UF advocates personal freedoms and individual liberties.
I wrote this for Reporting class.