This story has been circulating around the web and is generating some media attention as well:
Obviously, this is a deeply troubling example of a worst-case outcome for a citizen who asserted constitutional rights during a police encounter. Given that our mission is to help people understand and assert these rights, we regret that events like this happen as often as they do.
Fortunately, the internet itself has become a useful tool not only for educating the public about their rights, but also for exposing police who violate the constitutional rights of the people they’re supposed to protect. Some might say Steven Anderson’s experience is an example of how police just do whatever they want. Yet Steven Anderson is exactly the type of brave citizen whose decision to assert his rights could ultimately have a meaningful impact.
It is precisely because too many police officers continue to recklessly disregard the basic rights of innocent people that we must make sure all citizens have the tools to confidently assert their rights if they choose to do so. This incident will likely culminate in a high-profile lawsuit that could change the way similar situations are handled in the future. If it weren’t for Anderson’s decision to flex his rights, there’s no question that the officers he encountered would be out there right now abusing other people, instead of being investigated for civil rights violations.
Protecting Yourself at Police Checkpoints
Inside-the-border checkpoints like the one Anderson encountered are dubious in their legality and rely heavily on coercion. Although you are not technically obligated to answer any questions or agree to a search, officers will generally expect you to comply and will usually become aggressive if you don’t cooperate. If you choose to flex your rights in this situation, do so politely and don’t be surprised if the situation escalates.
If officers ask to search your vehicle and you refuse, they can legally conduct a dog-sniff of the outside of your vehicle (provided that a dog is present at the scene). If the dog indicates that there is contraband in your vehicle, that creates probable cause for officers to conduct a search. Unfortunately, officers sometimes falsely claim that the dog has detected contraband so that they can perform a search legally. In this situation, state clearly that you don’t agree to the search, but do not resist. You can challenge the search later.
If you feel that your rights were violated, don’t say anything to the officers. Write everything down as soon as possible and contact an attorney. Click here for more on responding to police misconduct.