Wednesday, October 20, 2010

UW-Green Bay students learn their rights from defense attorney - FOURTH ESTATE


By Starla Golie

Every year, college students have the possibility of a confrontation with police, which could lead to receiving a ticket. If students know how to deal with the police in the correct manner, it could mean preventing a ticket from being issued.

Erik Guenther, attorney for Hurley, Burish & Stanton S.C. Law Firm, represents a range of clients and cases, and has had experience with college students.

Guenther was recognized as the Volunteer Attorney of the Year by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and was also a recipient of a 2003 Journal Times Award for his contributions to Racine County.

October 6 was the third time he spoke at UW-Green Bay. Since 2002, Guenther has been speaking at campuses nationwide.

Guenther spoke at UWGB about knowing what rights to stress when dealing with the police. He felt it was important to discuss the rights of students, because there are times when they can be taken advantage of by the police.

"Bullies can take on a lot of different forms in a criminal proceeding," Guenther said. "My job is to balance the scales to help get my client through a tough time with the best possible outcome."

Throughout the event, Guenther touched on many topics. He talked about sexual assault, disorderly conduct, drugs, drunk driving, obstructing and resisting an officer, underage drinking, fake identification cards, house parties and what to do when the police are knocking at the door.

Brandon Vest, sophomore business administration major, attended the event for a class, but ended up learning many new things.

"This event was really helpful for college students," Vest said.

Alex Vogl, sophomore theatre and psychology major, thought it was a good idea to attend the event as well.

"This will help me in the future," Vogl said. "I learned if an officer comes to my door, I know what I can refuse. It's really good to know."

Guenther said the most important topic students need to be aware of is that they have the choice to turn down speaking with law enforcement.

He discussed how it is vital to never lie to an officer. If students can't remember every detail, they can wait until a later time to talk with the police, while also having a lawyer present.

Sometimes, if students talk to police without a lawyer, they can get in more trouble than if they would have waited.

"It's important to know and assert your rights," Vest said. "I thought it was interesting to learn it is not smart to talk without a lawyer. You're better off saying nothing at all."

Besides informing students about their rights, Guenther answered questions throughout the event and helped many students with their personal issues as well.

He also gave students the opportunity to approach him after the speech to ask questions they didn't feel comfortable asking during the event.

Guenther encourages students who have questions or who weren't able to attend the event to e-mail him at eguenther@hbslawfirm.com.

(The article is available here.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

‘College Life’ star tells story at Know Your Rights event - THE BADGER HERALD

By Pam Selman

After three University of Wisconsin students received more than $85,000 in fines from a Sept. 11 house party, UW’s American Civil Liberties Union Student Alliance hosted a session Tuesday night to discuss student rights.

The event featured two key speakers who addressed prominent concerns facing college students.

Kevin Tracy, a UW junior and one of the house party hosts, opened the event by speaking about the bust and voicing his concerns about the way it was handled.

More than 130 citations were handed out to the party’s hosts for dispensing alcohol without a license, procuring alcohol for an underage person and for being adults encouraging underage alcohol consumption, though police said the fines would have been less if the hosts had answered the door immediately upon police arrival.

Tracy used the ACLU’s program as a forum to share his side of the story after national media portrayed Tracy and his roommates as being uncooperative with the police.

Tracy said when the police arrived he was upstairs, and his two other roommates were in the basement. When Tracy went downstairs, four police officers were already in the kitchen.

The program’s second speaker, Erik Guenther, an attorney with Hurley, Burish and Stanton, warned students that anyone at a party can allow the police inside, which waves the right to privacy without a warrant.

Still, Tracy said the worst violation was the invasion of privacy that continued even after police left when they released the names of the three hosts to the media and public.

Additionally, he said a violation of the Eighth Amendment took place with excessive fines of $28,187 per host.

“We’re trying to figure out what we did wrong and how what we did was different than any other one of the thousands of college students who have thrown parties,” Tracy said.

Guenther said Tracy’s case is not isolated — he has represented cases where UW students were charged more than $496,000 for similar house parties, but added the charges in these types of cases are routinely reduced.

To avoid such charges, students should never open the door or speak to police if they arrive at a party, Guenther said.

Though students usually know they must follow police directions, Guenther said students must also understand their rights and know police cannot enter the premise without a warrant. This law does not apply to students living in campus-sponsored dorms.

Additionally, he said police can legally lie to students and are therefore likely to say that consequences will be worse if students do not immediately cooperate without a warrant.

The event drew a crowd of students filled with questions on underage drinking, illegal substance use, use of fake IDs and disorderly conduct.

Andrew Fajnzylber, a junior at UW, said the event was important for students because college students often believe they do not have rights or are too afraid to ask for them, but this workshop gave students the opportunity to learn.

“Students could really easily respond to the talk because it was simple with a powerful message,” he said.

(The article is available here.)

‘College Life’ figure, attorney talk rights - DAILY CARDINAL


By Ben Siegel

With the help of a reality television personality and a civil defense attorney, the UW-Madison American Civil Liberties Student Alliance gave a group of approximately 100 students a crash course in civil liberties and individual rights Tuesday.

The "Know Your Rights" event was the first event to be sponsored by both the College Democrats and College Republicans in almost two years and featured Kevin Tracy, a cast member on the MTV series "College Life."

Tracy spoke about his experience receiving numerous police citations for hosting a house party last month.

Facing around $30,000 in fines individually, Tracy, along with two roommates, has a court hearing scheduled for Oct. 25. The students also still face the possibility of disciplinary action from the university.

"I feel the worst part of [the police reaction] was the [violation of] privacy," Tracy said. "Before I even knew about it, there were news cameras coming to my house."

Tracy said though he did not let the police into his house right away, which aggravated the situation, he thinks his rights under the Eighth Amendment were violated. He believes the high fines constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Tracy said he thinks the police made an example of his party to discourage students from throwing big house parties.

"Right now, we're looking at attorneys and trying to figure out what exactly we did wrong or different than the other thousand houses on campus," Tracy said.

Erik Guenther, a Madison criminal defense attorney and president of the ACLU of Wisconsin, spoke about the issues of individual rights and recommended procedure in such situations as a busted house party, drunk driving and drug possession.

"The most important thing I'd recommend in a police encounter is to say ‘I do not wish to speak to you without a lawyer,'" Guenther said.

(The article is available here.)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Editorial: Encourage openness with online court records - GREEN BAY PRESS GAZETTE

Proposed changes to the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access system leave us with serious concerns about thorough record keeping and maintaining the public's right to know.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Monday again will consider a State Bar of Wisconsin petition to make three fundamental changes to WCCA, which allows free public online access to court records from throughout the state.

The Bar is calling for:

•An expansion of state judges' ability to order the expunction of criminal convictions, including the removal of case records from the system.

•A mandate that records of pending criminal cases or those that do not lead to conviction to not appear on the site.

•Provision for a mechanism for the destruction of court records immediately after the mandatory minimum retention periods expire.

Supporters say the changes are necessary in part because potential employers and others can view case records — even those in which an individual was not convicted — and discriminate against the involved person, said Erik Guenther, a Madison attorney who coauthored the petition on behalf of the Bar. The way he and other supporters see it, the proposed changes are a way of extending privacy protections to innocent individuals, whom Guenther says in some cases have less protection than their convicted counterparts.

"When someone has been dragged through the process of arrest, charging, investigation and ultimately prevails," he said, "the state has an obligation to not continue to harm that person by limiting their employment prospects. And it's been demonstrated that a job applicant who has been acquitted of a crime stands in a worse place than one who has no criminal record."

The Supreme Court in February held a hearing on the matter and heard from dozens of people criticizing the system. On Monday, the court again will discuss the petition and possibly act. There's a lot at stake for the public's right to know.

We understand and are sensitive to those who feel the system has harmed them, but we feel these cases are the exception, rather than representative of the common experience. Removing or not placing certain cases on the site is akin to altering the historical record, which concerns this newspaper on a deep and fundamental level.

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, describes our state's public court management system as one of the most robust in the country, a fact of which Wisconsin should be proud. Lueders also points out that in today's technological age, such records will be available electronically in some form.

"My honest feeling is that removing this information from WCCA is not going to make it go away," Lueders told the Green Bay Press-Gazette, "that once WCCA becomes no longer an authoritative source of information about our state courts, people are going to turn to some provider who is. And this … will be a huge boon to private providers who are going to mine this information and provide it at a charge."

As is, WCCA provides a thorough, accurate and complete record of court activity in this state. It is one of our finest examples of government sunshine and exemplifies the fundamental principles of the public's right to know.

It is not a perfect system, but the benefits of keeping WCCA open and accessible far outweigh the potential drawbacks. We urge the high court to carefully consider this matter and err on the side of openness and the greater public good.

The article is available here.