If you’re unfamiliar with this tragic story, Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old black woman who was found dead in a Texas jail cell. After the dashcam video of her arrest was released, a reporter from The Guardian contacted me for a legal opinion of the ill-fated encounter.
Here’s what I had to say:
Steve Silverman, executive director of the nonprofit legal education organization Flex Your Rights, called [Officer] Encinia’s demand “technically legal but completely unnecessary”, and says that’s “largely a consequence of a bad 1977 supreme court ruling that few people have heard of”.
The case in question, Pennsylvania v Mimms, held that police can legally order stopped motorists out of their cars, describing the request as “at most, a mere inconvenience” which the court said “cannot prevail when balanced against legitimate concerns for the officer’s safety”.
Silverman said this ruling has “contributed to many unnecessary and avoidable escalations where police forcibly remove motorists from their vehicles simply because they talked back or were too afraid to exit”.
So if police ever order you out of your car, step out of the car. Then be prepared to flex your rights in the calm, assertive manner that we’ve always advised.