Police officers are trained manipulators. They take classes to learn how to read people’s body language and how to ask open-ended and innocent-sounding questions in order to surreptitiously obtain information they can use against you.
They also have a knowledge of the laws that you don’t possess — and laws differ from State to State, and even from one jurisdiction in a State to another. Police have also been known to invent “laws,” place “evidence” that can be linked to you and twist your words into meaning something you did not intend.
For that reason you should never consent to a police search of your vehicle and never volunteer information when being questioned. Of course, not consenting doesn’t mean you won’t be subjected to an unConstitutional and illegal search, as Nancy Genovese learned.
Before being deployed to Afghanistan, Kim left his gun collection with his parents in New Jersey. In the summer of 2010, Kim was back in the United States after being injured in a vehicle crash in Afghanistan. He had a medical appointment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and decided to work a trip from his South Carolina home to his parent’s New Jersey home around the medical center appointment.
He loaded his guns plus some spare parts in the trunk of his Honda Civic and headed to his medical appointment. He got lost in downtown Washington, D.C., and was pulled over by police. The officer said his license had been suspended, but Kim said he was not aware that it had been. It turns out the suspension was a clerical error caused by the State of North Carolina incorrectly reporting to South Carolina that Kim had failed to pay for a ticket.
But because of the erroneous suspension, the D.C. officer called for backup and told Kim he’d have to go to the police station. Then the officer asked if he could search his vehicle. Kim consented because he knew his guns were properly locked in a case, which complied with Federal firearms transportation laws. Kim was handcuffed and made to sit on the curb. He was then booked on four counts of carrying outside the home. Officers told him that he was in violation of registration laws because he admitted to having stopped at Walter Reed. In D.C., having a weapon outside the home is illegal.
In Demopolis, Ala., Avera answered a police officer’s question honestly. It landed her in jail for 40 days — including 17 hours strapped in a restraint chair — and a conviction on a drug charge that carries a sentence of one year in jail and seven years of probation.
Avera had recently taken up the hobby of scuba diving. Her dive instructor had advised her to take pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) to help her equalize pressure on her eardrums and to help her with other sinus issues she experienced while diving. This is a common practice among divers; and Avera had, under advice from her physician, taken pseudoephedrine many times before to treat allergies.
But just weeks before Avera was arrested, a new State ordinance went into effect in her home State of Mississippi that made pseudoephedrine a prescription drug. So Avera drove to Alabama to buy some.
In the car with Avera were her adult son, his girlfriend and their three children. The son and girlfriend bought two boxes of Sudafed from a CVS. Avera bought another at Wal-Mart. As she pulled away from Wal-Mart, Demopolis Police Sgt. Tim Soronen pulled her over. (In Avera’s trial it was revealed the CVS pharmacist was a police informant who tipped off police about the Sudafed purchase.)
“What brings you to Demopolis?” Soronen asked.
“I came over to buy some Sudafed for our scuba diving trip this weekend, since we can’t buy it in Meridian anymore,” Avera replied.
Soronen asked Avera if she knew it was against the law to cross the State line to buy Sudafed. Avera said she did not. Soronen ordered her out of the car.
Using the threat of kidnapping Avera’s grandchildren and putting them into the hands of the State Department of Human Resources, Soronen extorted a confession from Avera that she was buying Sudafed to manufacture crystal methamphetamine. It did not help that her son — a habitual drug user who had been through rehab several times — had a bottle of methadone and a pouch containing drug paraphernalia that police found during a vehicle search.
She was convicted after the trial judge allowed the prosecutor to make entirely unsubstantiated claims. These included that Avera had confessed to having used crystal meth for two years — her former employer, a physician, insisted there was never any indication she was a drug user — and that she had somehow “diluted” drug tests that showed she had no meth in her system.
Avera’s conviction is being appealed, and she is free on a $20,000 bond. But Kim accepted a deal that allowed him to plead guilty of one misdemeanor charge of possessing an unregistered gun with the understanding the charges would be dismissed and his guns and gun parts — worth $10,000 — would be returned if he stayed out of trouble for nine months. Now the Metropolitan Police are refusing to release Kim’s guns.
“The mistake he made was agreeing to a search of his vehicle,” Kim’s attorney Richard Gardiner told The Washington Times. “If the police ask for consent to search, the answer is ‘no.’ If they ask, ‘why not?’ The answer is, ‘no.’”
For most people, encounters with police end with no more than a warning or a ticket. But you never know when you may say or do something that interests the officer enough that he or she wants to take a closer look at who you are and where you’ve been.
Privacy expert and lawyer Mark Nestmann writes in his book, The Lifeboat Strategy to never consent to a vehicle search. He reminds that you do not have to answer an officer’s questions if you are being detained.
From his book:
Say something like, “Officer, I know you want to do your job, but I can’t consent to a search.” A likely response will be, “Why not? What do you have to hide?” You are under no obligation to answer this question. Instead, say something like, “Officer, am I under arrest? If not, I would respectfully ask that you permit me to leave.” If there’s no response, then announce, “Officer, if you’re not detaining me, may I leave?” If the response is “yes,” say “thank you” and leave immediately. If the response is ambiguous, or if your question is answered by another question, repeat your question: “Am I being detained, or may I leave now?”
If the response is “no,” you’re being detained. Police may detain you or your vehicle for a brief time… If you’re detained, you’re under no obligation to answer any questions or consent to a search. You should point that out; but again, in a non-threatening way. One way is to make a joke; e.g., “My lawyer would kill me if I consented to a search without him being present.”… Specifically mention the word “lawyer.” This will end many requests for a search or to answer questions. If not, tell the officer that you want to call your lawyer… If you don’t have a lawyer… Just keep your mouth shut and don’t consent to a search.
Nestmann also recommends you keep your car free from clutter and conceal everything that you want to keep private. If an officer sees something suspicious out in the open, he can get around the need for consent or a warrant and claim probable cause.
Most people now break many laws during the course of their day that they don’t even know exist. The presumption of innocence no longer applies. Over the past several decades, police have become increasingly militarized and increasingly militant and abusive. For years, complaints about abusive police from members of the black community have fallen on deaf ears. Propaganda-induced ignorance will cause many to dismiss this issue still.
Some people are concerned there will come a time in the United States when the military will be brought to bear on the regular citizens in a time of riots or civil unrest. But it’s more likely we should fear the police, who are already showing a proclivity to attack and abuse citizens — including children — and are obviously preparing for civil unrest.