Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

POLICE MISCONDUCT, “HOW CAN I BE SURE THAT LAW ENFORCEMENT WILL NOT KILL ME IF I AM A SUSPECT?”

There is much to be said about race relations, police officers and grand juries… not to mention the interaction of the three. However, let’s deal with the facts as they exist today.

We know that there are times when the police interact with someone and things get out of hand. Sometimes, someone is badly injured or killed. Usually, that is not the police officer. If the person is not actually killed, that person will face very serious charges even if the original allegations against him or her where relatively minor.

In the event that the suspect is killed, there will likely be a police investigation. There may or may not be a grand jury presentation. Either way, the officer will most likely not be prosecuted.

These are the facts that we have discussed time and time again. The only difference in the last couple of weeks is that we have seen them played out on a national stage. Again.

Now, why is it critical that you understand these facts?

Attorney Sam’s Take On Rough Interaction With Law-Enforcement

Generally, when Law enforcement comes up to approach you, the officer is not coming to simply wish you a “good day”. You are most likely either a witness, suspected witness or a criminal suspect.

Let’s assume that you are either a suspect in a case the officer is investigating or just a suspect in general as someone who probably commits crimes although not necessarily the one being investigated.

“You mean because of my skin color?”

Clearly, that may be a part of it. Perhaps your looks fit in with a description of the suspect. Perhaps it is because there is alot of black on black crime either being committed in the area or the officers believe is being committed in the area. Assuming that the officer does not know you, the officer does know that he or she must remain in control of the interaction with you. Otherwise, the officer fears, something bad will happen. Something violent will happen. Now, is that because of your race? As I indicated, because of racial stereotypes, it may well be. It may also be the way you are dressed. It is likely many things.

Obviously, the more serious the crime being investigated, the more the officer is on alert and is sensitive to any challenge of losing control of the situation.

It is important to realize, and I base this on experience, that the officer probably did not wake up that morning or evening with the desire to engage in a violent scene with you or anyone else. He or she is hoping to return home at the end of the tour with no one having been seriously injured or killed in a matter involving him or her.

However, being killed or having to kill is a part of the daily reality that officers deal with. Add that to the fact that many people do not trust and actually fear police officers in general and you can imagine the hostile environment an officer may feel he is in.

So the officer is on extra alert.

The law gives certain allowances to law-enforcement in terms of benefits of the doubt. That is why a police officer is generally not going tube prosecuted for roughing you up. You, however, will be prosecuted should you engage in the same, or less, assaultive behavior with that officer or anybody else.

We can debate whether or not that’s fair. But not today.

Under the law, an officer has the right to take all reasonable steps to safeguard his safety as well as the safety o those around him.it does not matter whether we are talking about an encounter on the street, in a car stop or at home. The officer has the legal right to make sure that he and those around him are as safe as possible.

In a number of the matters we have been discussing lately, the suspect had what could be could considered a dangerous or deadly weapon.

Clearly, this will raise the nerve endings on the neck of law enforcement.

So…what do you do?

You may not be able to control the officer’s behavior, but you must be able to control your own. Forget that the officer is the professional. Forget that the officer has certain guidelines he must follow or else evidence gets suppressed. Forget whether or not you feel that you have done anything wrong.

If you want to be sure to leave this confrontation in one piece, you have to make sure that you are the one who keeps his cool. That means remembering that you do not want to do anything that can even remotely be considered confrontational.

If the officer tells you to put your hands up, then, no matter what, put your hands up.

If the officer tells you to get on the ground, then, no matter what, get on the ground.

If the officer tells you to get out of the car, then, no matter what, get out of the car.

You can legally challenge the commands later…in court.

“But what if obeying the officer will lead to revealing some illegal material I have with me?”

Better to have the officer find that material than to have that officer find that material and face worse penalties than you would have ordinarily faced. These days, that penalty clearly can include death.

“Isn’t there a limit to this? I thought I had certain rights!”

There are and you do. Other than who you are, you do not have to make a statement when being interrogated by the police. You do not have to consent to an automobile or home search unless there is a valid warrant. You do not have to agree to do field sobriety tests or a breathalyzer.

Please note what this means and does not mean.

It does not mean that you can run away or assault the officer. You cannot threaten the officer. Ignoring the officer’s commands and giving a few of your own to the officer is also not a good idea.

You want to be as polite and non-confrontational as possible. The officer must know that you are not questioning his authority and that you will not put up a fight.

…and, if the officer wants to go further with you, tell him you want an attorney to discuss your rights with you.

“What if the officer starts telling me what the extent of my rights are?”

Then, politely, you explain that, with all due respect, I really think I should discuss this situation with her.

It’s that simple.

Now, go have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!

To see a video which makes this point in a more jocular vein, please go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igQDvYOt_iA

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