Thursday, April 07, 2005

Lawyers inform students of civil rights - THE BADGER HERALD

by Jenna Sachs
Thursday, April 7, 2005

How to assert one’s civil rights when confronted by the police comprised a portion of the advice given by criminal lawyers Marcus Berghahn and Erik Guenther at Memorial Union Wednesday night in a presentation held by Students for Responsible Drug Policy.

The presentation covered how to respond in situations ranging from being pulled over in a car, possession of illegal drugs or the search and seizure of property. Berghahn and Guenther said the solution to any situation that threatens constitutional rights is to know one’s rights and declare them.

Berghahn said people can easily lose their rights if they do not assert them.

“The answer to any question asked by the police — even small talk — is: ‘I don’t wish to speak with you,’” Berghahn said.

The most important constitutional rights are the rights police are most likely to violate, Guenther said, such as the Fourth Amendment (freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures), the Fifth Amendment (freedom from self-incrimination) and the Sixth Amendment (the right to counsel).

Violations of constitutional rights occur every day, Guenther stated, because people do not know what to do during these encounters. Guenther discouraged lying to the police and said silence is usually the best option.

“If you lie to the police, it is an obstruction of justice,” Guenther said. “If they lie to you, they are doing their job.”

If the officer wishes to search a person or his or her property without reasonable cause, the person should always demand a warrant, he added. In the time it takes to obtain one, Guenther said, a lawyer can learn what the incriminating evidence is and try to block it.

Berghahn and Guenther identified situations where people do and do not have the right to a search warrant. A warrant is required to search a person’s car or home, but if incriminating evidence is in the police’s view, they do not need a warrant to obtain it, Berghahn said. If the police go to a home, for example, the best response is to walk outside, lock the door, and state one’s constitutional rights, Guenther stated. Then the police cannot peek into the house to see incriminating evidence, he said.

In other places, however, a warrant is not required for a search, Guenther said, such as in the office, garbage or in any place where a stranger could find something.

Guenther said guilty clients win cases because their lawyers argue suppression by police. He said judges are offended when police violate people’s rights, and “will chew out the cops for doing it.”

“When guilty people get off the hook and everyone knows it … point your finger at the cop that didn’t respect their rights,” Guenther said.

Berghahn said individuals should not be held guilty by association, but for their actions. He spoke of clients who received large tickets for the actions of others. Berghahn has known of parties on campus that resulted in tickets of up to $88,000, and people who were given thousand-dollar citations just for walking into the room.

“Not exercising your rights costs you a lot of money,” Berghahn said — not only in tickets, but also in taxes, as prisons use a large percentage of money from the state of Wisconsin, he added.


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