Friday, March 23, 2007

Experts teach break rights - THE BADGER HERALD


by Carl Jaeger
Friday, March 23, 2007

With spring break only a week away, Madison attorneys presented a single message to University of Wisconsin students Thursday night: Know your rights.

During a presentation aimed at educating students about their legal rights, Madison lawyers Erik Guenther and Marcus Berghahn advised students on what to do if police confront them during their mid-semester break — or any time.

Guenther said students should be aware of their constitutional rights if ever questioned by a police officer.

“Assert [your] rights and be polite,” Guenther said. “If police abuse your rights, let the lawyers take care of it later.”

Search and seizures, underage-drinking offenses and fake IDs were among the topics discussed by Guenther and Berghahn.

When it came to police searching students’ houses — or hotel rooms — Berghahn stressed the importance for police to show a search warrant or demonstrate probable cause, such as having contraband in “plain view or plain smell.”

Berghahn said police can enter a house with consent from the resident, but warned that the moment a student gives consent, “you give your rights away.”

“They bully people with their badge and the threat of a hefty citation, and people give them consent,” Berghahn said.

However, Guenther added that students have to be aware of more than just their personal conduct and behavior.

According to Guenther, students could be held liable for the actions of people around them.

“You could be held responsible for your roommate’s actions and face criminal penalties,” Guenther said. “Innocent people can get caught up in the consequences of other people’s actions.”

Guenther and Berghahn also warned students about the consequences they could face for violating laws, including losing their right to vote, their driver’s license or federal financial aid.

The presentation concluded with a list of 10 laws every student should be aware of, including laws on drunken driving, disorderly conduct and battery.

Berghahn said 10 to 15 percent of cases in his Madison practice involve defending UW students who were cited or arrested for incidents involving house parties or alcohol-related violence.

The reason he speaks to students, Berghahn said, is because he has too often heard them say they did not know their rights.

“I thought someone should reach out to them and say, ‘Look, you have to know what your rights are,’” Berghahn said. “The law presumes that you know what the law says, so get educated.”

Yara Korkor, a member of the UW American Civil Liberties Union — which co-sponsored Thursday’s event with Students for Sensible Drug Policy — said the issues discussed were especially relevant to UW students living in Madison.

“There’s a lot of underage drinking on this campus and a lot of using fake IDs,” Korkor said. “It’s important for students to know and engage in what the law has to say about that.”

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