POST WRITTEN BY: Danielle Petretta (J.D. ’17), Pace Law School
On November 18, 2014, the Criminal Justice Society, Criminal Justice Institute and Alumni Relations Office at Pace hosted Know Your Rights symposium. This event was created by Pace Criminal Justice Clinic students under the leadership of Professor David N. Dorfman.
Students were broken into groups, and each group participated in various skits demonstrating the appropriate responses during police street stops, stop and frisks, car searches, cell phone searches and more. While extremely amusing, the skits were followed by an important presentations during which students addressed legal issues involved in each of the skits. One of the problems is that many people do not know their rights and the available appropriate responses. The students’ skits conveyed the importance of being an informed citizen.
Think of some of the following statements and ask yourself if you know the answer:
- Did you know that if a police officer approaches and asks you general questions, in a non-accusing manner, and you do not wish to answer, you can choose not to answer and walk away? (though doing so requires a level of courtesy)
- Did you know that you do not have to consent to a car search without a warrant if a police officer stops your car, and that 80% of people only consent because they are uninformed of their right to refuse? (assuming that the officer does not have probable cause such as seeing drugs or firearms)
- Did you know that cell phones cannot be searched incident to arrest without search warrant that is signed by a judge?
These are few of the questions that plague our justice system on a daily basis, which is why it is important to be aware of our rights, especially as young students in the midst of a technological revolution.
It is no secret that we live in an era where technology is rapidly changing. However, the law has not yet reached the 21st century, so there are many unsettled situation. In the meantime, our court systems battle these complex issues on a daily basis that arise with the advent of new technology. Think about the issues regarding cell phones searches, GPS devices, computers, social media, etc…. How is the law to handle the use of technology and searches while not infringing on person’s expectation of privacy? This is where the difficulty lies. We know that during a car stop, a police officer is allowed to search whatever is in plain view. On the other hand, what is the protocol for searching a computer that is left open and unattended? A cell phone that is seized? Can information found on social media websites be used against a person, and if so, how? What if the social media site is set to private? Do levels of privacy differ on the Internet? Should the same procedures currently applied in searches of cars, houses or people be applied to technology? These are some of the questions presenting much difficulty in articulating new laws.
For now, Riley v. California, decided just this year, is the only precedent we have regarding cellphone searches incident to arrest. An officer may seize a cell phone from an individual after his/her arrest, but may not open the phone or search through the phone without a valid search warrant. Here is an interesting excerpt from the Supreme Court decision: “Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualitative sense from other objects that might be carried on an arrestee’s person. Notably, modern cell phones have an immense storage capacity. Before cell phones, a search of a person was limited by physical realities and generally constituted only a narrow intrusion on privacy. But cell phones can store millions of pages of text, thousands of pictures, or hundreds of videos” Riley v. California, 134 S. Ct 2473, 2478 (2014). It is clear that new law is warranted, but it must be balanced against our expectation of privacy.
The Know Your Rights event was an eye opener. It would be interesting to see how this event can be incorporated into the public or in other schools, perhaps even high schools. I think it would be an extremely informative and fun experience for young adults to become informed about what is unfolding around them. Personally, I was made aware of the consequences of the technology that we as a society have become so obsessed with and reliant on, while also realizing that the courts face a huge task of creating new laws addressing these new issues. I would urge everyone to become informed not only as to their own rights but also about what is currently being debated in our courts, because we will be the ones who will become affected in the future by the laws that are being created at this moment.
For your convenience, take a moment to begin and read the Know Your Rights! Top Ten Takeaways compiled by Professor David N. Dorfman.