The United States Constitution provides the foundation for the rights that protect all US citizens from intrusive law enforcement practices. These rights should be exercised by everyone in all circumstances, regardless of whether or not an individual is guilty of a crime. Rights are like muscles -- if they are not exercised, they wither away.
Rules of Thumb
Never leave anything in plain view: Although law enforcement officers must obtain a warrant before they can conduct a privacy-invading search, any illicit material that can be plainly seen by any person from a non-intrusive vantage point is subject to confiscation. An arrest and a valid warrant to search the rest of the area is likely to ensue. A "roach" in the ashtray, a pipe or baggie on the dashboard or coffee table, or a joint being smoked in public are common mistakes that can lead to prosecution. Never put anything incriminating into the trash: Various courts have ruled that law enforcement officers are allowed to rummage through curbside trash bags without a warrant. A few seeds or stems can then be used as a basis for obtaining a warrant to search the individual's home. In fact, anything discarded into the public domain can be picked up by the police and used as evidence. For example, if an individual throws an illicit substance out of his or her car window and a police officer sees it and picks it up, the person is almost certain to be arrested.
Never Consent to a Search
Most individuals arrested on marijuana charges could have avoided the arrest by exercising their Fourth Amendment rights. If a law enforcement officer asks permission to search, it is usually because: (1) there is not enough evidence to obtain a search warrant; or (2) the officer does not feel like going through the hassle of obtaining a warrant. Law enforcement officers are trained to intimidate people into consenting to searches. If an individual does consent, the officer can -- and will -- conduct the search without a warrant. If the officer finds any contraband, the person will be arrested. Moreover, the validity of the evidence will almost definitely hold up in court because consenting to a search essentially amounts to handing the evidence to the officer and saying, "Here it is -- arrest me." If an individual does not consent, the officer must either release the person or detain the person and attempt to get a warrant. The fact that an individual refuses to consent does not give the officer grounds to obtain a warrant. The individual should politely say: "I do not consent to a search of my person, belongings, home, or vehicle. I retain my Fourth Amendment rights and all other rights under the United States Constitution. I will say nothing until my attorney is present." If the officer conducts a search anyway -- without a warrant -- any contraband will likely be declared invalid evidence by the judge, and any charges will probably be dropped. If the officer does attempt to get a warrant and is successful in doing so, any contraband discovered may still be excluded as evidence if the individual's lawyer can convince the judge that the warrant itself was invalid --which, in many cases, it is. No matter what a law enforcement officer threatens or promises, it is always better to refuse to consent to a search.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
Whether arrested or not, individuals should always exercise the right to remain silent. Anything a person says to law enforcement officers, reporters, cellmates, or even their friends can--and probably will--be used as evidence against them. Individuals have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. Only a qualified attorney can ensure that the suspect or defendant does not say anything damaging. The right to remain silent should always be exercised; three hypothetical examples follow:
Cop: "Is this your pipe?"
Joe Citizen: "My attorney advised me to remain silent unless she is present."
Cop: "If I look in your trunk, I'm not going to find any drugs?"
Jane Citizen: "I do not consent to a search of my trunk, and I'd rather not answer any questions without an attorney present."
Cop: [during search of apartment -- with a warrant-- upon discovering and examining a tiny bag of leaves and stems]: "Looks like a couple pounds of good bud here ... too bad. You can do some serious time in the state slammer for this."
John Citizen: [says nothing at all]
Don't Stick Around Any Longer Than Required
From the time a law enforcement officer approaches, it is wise to remain calm and not arouse suspicion. Nevertheless, individuals should always find out if the officer requires them to stay; if not, they should explain that they are in a hurry, then leave. Law enforcement officers are trained to create the impression that their suspects are obliged to stay. Individuals being questioned by an officer should simply say: "Am I under arrest or otherwise detained? If not, I really need to get going. Have a nice day."
Don't be Hostile or Resist
Some law enforcement officers do not care about citizens' rights; sometimes, the suspect is caught red-handed; other times, there are special-case qualifiers to certain rights, or there are loopholes beyond the scope of discussion in this publication. In any case, there are times when individuals politely assert their rights and refuse to talk or give consent, but the officers disregard their wishes and proceed to detain, search, or arrest them. In such cases, it is important to keep in mind that law enforcement officers have clubs, mace, handcuffs, guns, back-up, and usually the trust of the court. Aggression against the officers can make matters far worse. This does not mean that individuals facing such circumstances should give up all rights. Sometimes it is best to simply say, "Do what you feel you must; I will not physically resist. However, I do not consent to this."
Don't be a Snitch
The police and prosecutors often try to pressure individuals into providing information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of others. Sometimes a person's own defense attorney will even encourage him or her to comply! A wise marijuana consumer will avoid the issue entirely by reducing the possibility of apprehension by knowing his or her rights. However, prudent marijuana consumers will keep in mind that the possibility of arrest always exists. They remember the adage: "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time." Threats and promises by police and prosecutors should be viewed with caution and skepticism. Decisions should only be made after consulting with an attorney and examining one's own conscience. Just remember, saving one's self by pointing the finger at others is the most cowardly thing a person can do. There is no justification for being a traitor in the War Against Marijuana Consumers.