Mesa Duct Tape Case: Have you heard?

A court case in Mesa has sparked a lot of controversy, where a man and the mother of a 3 year-year-old girl are being charged with multiple felonies after the girl was was found duct-taped and covered in feces inside of a closet, according to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

Francisco Rios-Covarrubias and the mother in this case of child neglect and abuse face multiple charges, including dangerous crimes against a child, kidnapping, child abuse and sexual conduct with a minor.

In a news conference last month, County Attorney Bill Montgomery told the Arizona Republic: “In contrast and comparison to the kindness I received growing up … with the treatment of some children in our community, it is absolutely heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s why I am so committed to wanting to fight for the most vulnerable and defenseless in our community who should receive that same kind of care and compassion instead of what they all too often are faced with.”

In sensitive cases like these, it can be difficult to stay faithful to the judicial system.  After all, should someone accused of doing something so depraved to a child be given due process?  For criminal law attorneys on both sides of the aisle (prosecution and defense), a tragedy of this magnitude can cause tremendous stress. policia

First and foremost, attorneys understand that each case must be treated with the same procedural safeguards because the Constitution requires them.  From the most minor traffic offenses to the most severe forms of child abuse and neglect, every case demands due process.  Unfortunately, that process can be slow and methodical, especially to the watchful public eye that demands swift retributive justice.  Whether or not the public approves, the case will not likely be resolved for several months or more.

Additionally, although cases like this one may appear factually indisputable, sometimes the most obvious conclusions break down under scrutiny.  One needs to consider the warnings of “Making a Murderer” to understand that costly mistakes can occur in the legal system.  It takes time for the parties to sort through the evidence and attempt to piece together what happened because even the most public of events will have subtle differences in each witness’s account.  Avoiding sending someone to prison for a crime they did not commit is the core purpose of the jury trial system in Maricopa County.

Of course, not every mistake results in prejudicial harm to the accused – sometimes, the state may fail to secure a conviction against a person who is dangerous and should face consequences for their actions.  Both sides – prosecution and defense – do not want to show up in the news or on a documentary for failing to do their jobs well.  This tension can sometimes result in unreasonable plea offers or unnecessary trials, but the pressure of the public eye helps to ensure that adequate care is taken – especially in high-profile cases.  As Phoenix area attorneys often say, no one wants to end up in the New Times for screwing up.

There are many more reasons that tragedies like the one involving the girl in Mesa are not as “open and shut” as the public would like.  Even after the case moves through the pretrial procedure and discovery processes, putting on a trial in a case with substantial media coverage requires tremendous planning and care.  Sometimes, when a case is highly publicized, it may not even be possible to hold the trial in the county where the crime occurred, leading to further scheduling delays and potential mistrials.  In the end, the judicial system is designed to protect the rights of the accused because, as jurists have argued for centuries, it is better that some guilty men go free than for an innocent man to suffer a false conviction.







Fingerprint Identification

Fingerprint identification is perhaps the most important and well-known form of biometrics. Virtually everyone understands the basics: fingerprints are unique to each individual and contain markers that can be used to compare samples and identify the person responsible for leaving a fingerprint mark with substantial reliability. Although not always as “cut and dry” as they appear in crime dramas, fingerprints are a steady tool of law and a source of many interesting scenarios.

Years ago, I represented a client in a dependency matter. The situation was complicated because the child was a teenager whose behavior was out of control. The parents, divorced but able to work together to raise their three children, were at the end of their rope with their 14-year-old, who had been diagnosed wifingerprintsth Oppositional Defiance Disorder.

CPS, now known as DCS, got involved at their beckoning. The child ultimately received treatment while in CPS care and now, many years later, is a successful adult with his associate’s degree and a good job.

Fast forward to the present day: my client had a chance to take a positon at a school district. His positon was not academic, but the district did require that he submit a fingerprint card. His clearance was denied and he was on the precipice of losing this job opportunity because his fingerprints were tied to the old DCS.

Fortunately, there are options. There is an administrative process overseen by a administrative law judge where we had the chance to address the issue.

First, we argued that there is a good cause for the Board to consider approving the card as the incident occurred long ago and, in this case, placement on the registry was more perfunctory than anything. This was not a parent who intentionally abused his child.

Second, there are exceptions to the central registry clearance rules in some limited circumstances. In theory, a person who has had a “substantiation” on their record and in the database with CPS/DCS can nonetheless request a finding bypassing the registration.

In considering whether an exception to the fingerprint clearance requirement was necessary, I was reminded of a doctor we represented many years ago.  He was a retired surgeon who, by life’s circumstances, was going to be raising his step- grandchild. The statute required that he be fingerprinted. His prints would not take. He went to the police department on 2 separate occasions but there were only able to produce blotches with limited identifiable loci (the fingerprint markers used for comparing samples and identifying fingerprints).  It turns out that, after years of scrubbing in for surgeries multiple times a day, the ridges in his prints were dulled to the point of being flat and he was unprintable.

Fortunately, we had an understanding judge who realized who helped us make a good cause exception to the rule. Fingerprints can be a tricky field to navigate, especially involving cases of child custody.

CPS Left A Card On My Door To Call Them! What Should I Do?

frequently get calls from parents who have come home to find a DCS note on their door. It is usually a business card from a DCS investigator requesting that the parent contact them immediately.  

In Arizona, Child Protective Services has an obligation to investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect.  (The investigations include, but are not limited to: unexplained bruises, malnutrition symptoms, Munchausen’s Syndrome, and parents with substance abuse issues.) Their job is to assure that children are safe, but often their investigation leads to serious legal consequences, including DCS taking the children from their parents and criminal charges.

When you get a note on your door, you should not ignore it.  If you fail to respond you could be sending the wrong message to DCS or unwittingly keeping your child in danger if they suspect that someone else under your roof is abusing the child.  Yes, you need an attorney. Even if DCS does not remove your child, their ‘substantiated’ findings can impact you dramatically.  Teachers, doctors, therapists and other licensed professionals can lose their careers over these issues. 

The Constitution guarantees you the right to remain silent and not answer questions.  While not answering their questions can be dangerous, you need to strongly consider telling DCS that you will cooperate with their investigation but only with your lawyer present. In most cases, this will make the process with DCS somewhat smoother. 

Remember, if you get a note on your door, do not panic, but be sure to seek out the help you need to handle the situation with proper care. 

Did the DCS/CPS Caseworker Really Just Tell Me That I Don’t Need a Lawyer?

Something that has confounded me since day one of practicing law in Phoenix, and all throughout the state of Arizona, is that DCS case managers frequently tell parents they are investigating for child abuse or neglect that they do not need a lawyer.  Sure, the early stages of their investigation may not involve the Juvenile Court or the DCS lawyer (Arizona Attorney General’s Office), but it does involve the parents’ constitutionally protected, fundamental right to parent their children.

There are many stages to a DCS investigation. From the child abuse hotline report, to the initial contact with the DCS worker, to a meeting involving “all interested parties”, to possibly the Juvenile Court making decisions about where a child should be placed – all of the stages involve a parent (or two) and a child. One of the early stages is called a Team Decision Making meeting or “TDM”.  TDMs involve state workers, supervisors, and possibly law enforcement. But too frequently we hear the parents have been told they “don’t need a lawyer” or if they bring their lawyer they will not hold the TDM for the family.

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place – DCS telling a parent they want to meet regarding abuse or neglect allegations (which may result in the child being removed from the parents’ home), but if the parent brings a lawyer DCS will just make their decision without the parents’ input.

Not bringing a lawyer to the TDM is the wrong decision. Many times at a TDM, DCS has already investigated and gathered a lot of damning evidence on parents. The TDM is being held to confront the parents on the evidence DCS has gathered.  Anything a parent says in the TDM can and will be included in a report to the Juvenile Court, if a Dependency is filed.

To show how important parents’ fundamental rights are, free attorneys are appointed if a Dependency is filed and a parent cannot afford an attorney (DCS takes legal custody of a child).  Free lawyers are NOT provided in Family Court, where custodial decisions are generally made between two parents.  However, waiting until a Dependency is filed may be too late.  Retaining a private attorney to help navigate the initial stages of a DCS investigation can be a prudent decision well worth the cost.

Lawyers play a vital role throughout multiple stages of cases, despite the opposition form other parties. The world of law is a tough world to navigate and with the right help from the right attorney, the process can become an easier one to understand.

By: Brad TenBrook

Similar to college admissions, jury selections are vital to cases

jurysummonsYou’re sorting through your mail and you see the dreaded letter from the Clerk of Court of Maricopa County: You’ve been summoned for jury duty. In some cases, you won’t need to actually go to the courthouse if you follow certain pre-screening rules. But just your luck, they need you to come in bright and early on the specified date to be screened by the judge and attorneys.

More often than not, these jury summons end up not going far, but what if you are one of the ones who ends up serving on the jury of a high profile case? How are they picked? What qualifications and descriptions must one fit?

For attorneys, the process of jury selection is almost like being a candidate for admission to a university—many details and qualities of each person are assessed in order to find the “perfect juror.”  Luckily for attorneys and the courts, Maricopa County usually produces a broad and diverse pool of potential jurors, collectively called a jury panel.  Selecting from among the members of a panel is anything but a perfunctory process – a panel may include individuals of dramatically different backgrounds who live as close to the Superior Court as Downtown Phoenix or further away, such as Scottsdale, Surprise, or Mesa.  This diversity is important to a fair trial, but is only the first step along the road to selecting a fair jury.

The jury selection process begins with initial screening questions.  These screenings can cover typical subjects, such as ethical conflicts with relations between the juror and the parties/witnesses involved in the case, and even go as far as screening for prejudicial biases like race, gender, age, or sexual orientation. One’s experiences can also play a role in whether they are selected; If the juror has had a negative experience involving police, or believes that police officers are more likely to tell the truth than civilians, those biases are taken into account. If the case is a rape or sexual assault case and the potential juror has recently been a victim of similar crime, they would likely not be selected to serve. Formal legal training can also be a turnoff to attorneys and may be viewed as troublesome because it could lead other jurors to follow along without thinking critically.

For high-profile cases, or for any case that has received even de minimis public exposure, it is important to the attorneys and the tribunal that the potential jurors have little to no personal knowledge about the case and have not been exposed to media coverage about the investigation. Similar to other biases, media exposure is a serious dilemma in jury selection for all parties involved because opinions formed outside the courtroom undermine constitutional due process.

Lastly, even for jurors who do not present with substantial biases and are not already aware of the case, the prosecution and defense attorneys are permitted a limited number of peremptory strikes to remove potential jurors from the panel.  Attorneys consider jurors’ professions, backgrounds, and any other details revealed during the screening process to decide whether they believe each person in the panel will be able to consider the case fairly.

In cases like the death of Mike Brown and Daniel Holtzclaw and even the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995, a portion of the public attention was about the jurors and the identities of the chosen few. In the Trayvon Martin case in which George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering a 17-year-old unarmed teenager, a couple of jurors came forward and sat down with the press to describe their experiences. One juror in particular, formerly known as B29, told the Huffington Post that she originally wanted to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, but after deliberation and how the law was read to her, she avoided being the juror whose disagreement with the majority would result in a mistrial.

After the trial, juror B29 went into detail about how she felt after the verdict. A lot of her personal biases, such as the fact that she was a mother and a child of someone, played a role in why she held on to her belief that Zimmerman was guilty of second degree murder from the beginning. Juror B29 said that, after the verdict, she felt a lot of sympathy towards the family of Trayvon Martin and reportedly felt like “she owes Martin’s parents an apology.”

As you can see by juror B29’s comments, being on a jury in a trial like Zimmerman’s goes to show not only how hard the process of being a juror for these high profile cases can be, but also how selective and attentive attorneys must be.

B29 disagreed with the jury’s majority opinion, but nonetheless agreed to acquit Zimmerman because she was not independent enough to stand her ground in the now-infamous ‘stand your ground’ defense case.  For the defense, she could have been a valuable juror, but she needed the support of a like-minded colleague (but none was selected).

Like searching for the top candidate for college admission, judges and attorneys must take this “admissions process” seriously in order to have a fair and speedy trial.  The process can be time-consuming and a little boring for potential jurors, but jury selection is one of the core functions of our judicial system and a live example of your constitutional rights at work.



Parenting Stoned: Family and Juvenile Courts in Arizona


Arizona enacted the Medical Marijuana Act (Prop. 203) in 2010, which is regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services.  Essentially, with a doctor’s assent, marijuana is considered medicinal and the possession of the same, for that purpose, is not illegal under state law.

Despite the passage of the Act years ago, there are still problems with the legalization of marijuana in the courts. In family court, the legalization of medical marijuana can impact parenting issues.

For example:

  1. You share legal decision-making (FKA: custody) and parenting time with your ex-husband.  You find out that he has obtained his medical marijuana card when he tells you that it is the only thing that helps him with his chronic back pain. How does the knowledge that your ex-husband may use marijuana during his parenting time affect your legal position?


  1. You get your medical marijuana card for a long-term diagnosis. Your ex-husband requests a court order preventing you from driving with your children in the car because he is concerned that your medicinal marijuana creates a risk of impairment.  What can you do?


  1. You were recently involved in a car accident with your child in the back seat. You informed the responding officer that you have a medical marijuana card and he believes that you were impaired while driving.  He calls the Department of Child Safety (DCS) to take temporary custody of your child, and the agency believes the child is not safe in your care.  How long can your child be kept away from you, and what can you do to prove that you parent safely?


Family Court and the Impact of Medical Marijuana

There are few studies detailing that social marijuana use is dangerous or harmful.  If it would bother you that a parent would have a beer or glass of wine with dinner while responsible for children, then smoking pot will probably be unacceptable to you as well.  Although some judges and commissioners have begun to accept medical marijuana use as part of some parents’ lives, others may have reservations and it could affect your parenting time.

Plus, although medical marijuana is legal at the state level in Arizona, federal law still prohibits its possession or use.  This can prevent some licensing agencies from allowing you to continue working in your field.  Change in employment status is one of the most common reasons that separated or divorced parents return to family court in Arizona in order to modify parenting time and child support orders.

The important thing to remember is that, notwithstanding the fact that Arizona legalized medical marijuana a half-decade ago, the legal use of marijuana is still a difficult issue in family court.  Although the social stigma of marijuana use has dramatically decreased in the past few years (and also in smaller courts like the Scottsdale City Court or Phoenix Municipal Court), the Family Court division of the Maricopa County Superior Court may still view your marijuana use disfavorably.

DCS, Dependencies, and Medical Marijuana

DCS is often even less amenable to medical marijuana use.  If the Department believes that your marijuana-assisted treatment for your medical condition places your children at risk, they may remove your children from your care and file a dependency action in the Juvenile Division of the Maricopa County Superior Court.  Most substance-related dependencies involve drug testing and counseling to ensure that you are willing and able to parent safely; however, your diagnosis and prescribed treatment of marijuana may conflict with the Department’s goal of forcing you to prove yourself substance-free.  Even if you and your doctor work out a different method to treat your condition, it could take weeks or months before your TASC screenings clear up.  In the interim, the Department will continue requesting restrictions and monitoring during your parenting time and play a significant role in your children’s lives.

Moreover, the TASC screening results are not as simple to interpret as the “positive-or-negative” dichotomy suggests.   Many Department workers are not well-versed in reading the TASC results and will expect the results to return to “negatives” within a week or two of your last use.  With more concentrated forms or higher dosages of marijuana, THC metabolites – the substances for which the urine, blood, and hair tests screen – can remain in your system for weeks or even months after your last use. In some cases, your screening results may vacillate between “negative” and “positive” over a course of weeks, even without new use, based on your body composition, diet, exercise, and various other factors.  Even comparing one test to another, even if the tests were only a day or two apart, can provide dramatically different and apparently contradictory results unless the screenings are mathematically “normalized” for your hydration level the day of each test.

DCS rarely consults with laboratory managers or physicians before seeking Juvenile Court involvement, but they will sometimes respond to the data if it is presented early – and convincingly.  For a parent, even a few days away from a child (or with visitation under Department supervision, only) can be excruciating.  The period of weeks or months while you, the Department, your doctor, and the Courts resolve a medical marijuana-related dependency matter can be one of the most difficult and frightening times in your life.


Life-Altering False Allegations

A long-time client was recently accused of inappropriately touching his daughter while she bathed.   I handled the original custody matter when the child was only six (6) months old.  My client, we will call him “Mike,” and the mother of their child, we will call her “Sarah,” were never married. They had an on-again, off-again relationship and lived together for a brief time in Scottsdale before breaking up.  Sarah found out she was pregnant a few weeks after Mike asked her to move out of his home.

Their relationship was not overly tumultuous (at least from the perspective of an attorney who routinely handles high-conflict Family Court cases in Maricopa County).   There were no reported domestic violence incidents, but Mike did have a possession of marijuana charge prior to the relationship. Again, nothing too dramatic. They were pre-gaming before a Rodger Clyne and the Peacemakers concert in Phoenix, where he was arrested for possession of a small amount of weed.   Other than that, and a few inconsequential traffic infractions, my client did not have a noteworthy legal history.

sadSarah was bitter that the court gave Mike parenting time equivalent to 3 days a week.  Her anger subsided when Sarah and Mike briefly rekindled their relationship during a few parenting time exchanges.  In retrospect, it was a bad idea, as Sarah thought that the sexual relationship meant more than Mike did.  Around the same time, Mike, who was a medical resident at the time the matter started but was now a credentialed pediatrician, moved into a home in Paradise Valley.

A few months after their last fling, Mike began to date someone and the relationship became serious and exclusive in the following months. His girlfriend, also in healthcare (a dentist), moved into the PV home and they were engaged     shortly thereafter.

The now-fiancée spent some time with the child, and they had a healthy and blossoming step-parent relationship.  She would occasionally watch the child in the evenings if Mike had an on-call issue and had to go to the hospital.  It was a good situation and continued to improve as the couple planned their Mexico wedding.

Then, about 6 weeks before the beach wedding, things started to escalate with Sarah.  Mike needed the child’s passport to bring her to the wedding.  Sarah balked, claiming that Cancun was unsafe because it is “in Mexico.” My office was re-engaged to deal with the passport issue and to get the Parenting Coordinator and Family Court to address the issue on an expedited basis.   Although we quickly cleared up the passport issue, what should have been the next happy chapter in Mike’s life was about to turn into a nightmare.

About 2 weeks before the wedding, a police officer knocked on Mike’s front door and asked to ‘talk’.  According to the report, Sarah claimed that their daughter had been ‘touched’ by him because the child, barely 3 years old, had some sort of vaginal irritation.   My client snapped at the officer, livid that he was being accused of inappropriately touching his daughter.   He calmed quickly and excused himself from the conversation to call me.  (It was late in the evening and he managed to track down one of the attorneys in our office by cell phone.)

Mike was advised not to discuss the matter and demand to speak to his counsel.  The officer respected the request and may have realized that there was something odd about the allegation.

CPS, however, advised Sarah that she should not let Mike have parenting time “while the investigation was opened.” So, she filed an emergency petition seeking to suspend his parenting time because he “had molested my daughter.”

The court granted the request ex parte (without giving notice or a chance to be heard to Mike).

We scrambled.  I have handled false allegations (and not-false allegations) many times and knew that we needed to get the medical records and find out about any disclosures made by the child.   The irritation, according to not only her primary care pediatrician but also an expert forensic examiner, was nothing more than irritation from toilet paper from a child learning to clean herself.

ThScoldeden, we reviewed the forensic interview of the child.  She seemed beyond coached,
inconsistent, and incoherent.   Ultimately, the police found “no cause” to charge Mike and CPS unsubstantiated the allegation, but the wedding was postponed and Mike was traumatized by how close he was to facing substantial prison time on a felony conviction based on nothing more than Mother’s naked allegation.

Everything was on the line for my client – his relationship with his daughter, his medical license, his reputation – all for Mother’s revenge.

I share this story because this situation far too common. Police, DCS agents, and sometimes even Superior Court Judges often react first and reason later in child abuse allegation cases because no one wants to guess wrong and wind up on the front page of the Arizona Republic if a child is harmed. Understanding the process and helping educate the Courts (and sometimes the “experts”) is critical to ensuring that false allegations are disproven and the collateral damage is minimal.

See also “Whose Team are they on?  CPS Removal and TDM Meetings

Could Your College Fake ID Come Back To Haunt You Years Later?

Do you remember being a teenager and longing for your 21st birthday? The temptation of getting a fake ID was too much, and you finally caved in.

licenseFast-forward 15 years later…

You can potentially be charged with a felony or misdemeanor based on that fake ID from over a decade ago.

The question is: How is that even possible?

Recently, the MVD (Arizona Department of Transportation) implemented facial recognition technology that cross-references photo IDs. When faces are recognized that have different biographical information attached, the matters are flagged for investigation.

Yes, you could receive a call from the Office of the Inspector General (a police officer) inquiring about a fake ID you perhaps received in college to get into bars a few years early.

You may think the statute of limitations has lapsed, but that may not be the case. Generally speaking, crimes have expiration dates. However, in the area of fraud, the time does not toll until the fraud has been discovered. Arizona Revised Statute §12-543 states that the process “shall be commenced and prosecuted within three years after the cause of action accrues, and not afterward.” That means, once the fraud has been discovered, prosecution has three years to charge you.

upsetIt is not clear what sort of actions the Office of the Inspector General will take in many of these cases. If it was truly just youthful indiscretion occurring many years ago, perhaps they will let it slide. But what if your photo was used on someone else’s license? What if the photo ID is identified as being part of some other criminal matter? What if your ID was used for someone else to fraudulently obtain employment? What if your photo was used on other illegal documentation?

No one wants to be judged by their actions when they were a young adult, but with this new implementation of technology, your actions could come back to haunt you. Before you speak to any investigator, know your rights. It is always best not to answer questions until you have consulted with an attorney, even if the investigator says they will suspend your license. You have a right not to incriminate yourself and to refuse to speak with a police officer or detective.  Depending on the circumstances, there may be more issues to consider than driver’s license revocation – a fraud charge could have lasting implications for professional licensure, creditworthiness, and employability.

Calling the Police and What To Do When They Arrive

Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Debra Harrell.

These are the three names that Yale Law fellow Emily Bazelon gives as examples for her police-averse policy in her Slate article, “Why I Don’t Call the Police.”

In the article, Bazelon explains that her experience as a journalist and studies of law enforcement statistics strongly indicate that, “… if the criminal justice system gets a hold of a black person, especially if he is poor, there is a terrible, heightened risk that it will try to crush him.”

Bazelon cites numerous instances, including the cases of the three people named above, in which police treatment of black individuals triggered intense national debate about the role that race plays in contemporary law enforcement.

Police Lights

Eric Garner was killed when Officer Daniel Pantaleo used a prohibited chokehold restraint to subdue him and failed to administer cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until seven minutes after he stopped moving.  Pantaleo was sued twice for alleged arrest- and abuse-related violations in 2013.

Debra Harrell was arrested and charged with felony “unlawful conduct toward a child” after police responded to a call and found her 9-year-old daughter at a park while her mother worked at a nearby fast food restaurant.  The girl, who had a cell phone and house key, was six walking minutes away from home and was not in apparent danger.

Michael Brown was shot and killed after an encounter with police. Brown was not armed and bystanders indicate that he did not threaten or otherwise provoke the officer who shot him.  Although details remain scarce, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri is now filled with police officers carrying military-grade equipment, callously opportunistic looting, and tensions growing with each passing day.

These cases are exceptional, but still too common. Gene Demby writes that 4,813 people died between 2003 and 2009 during or soon after arrest attempts, with 60 percent of those deaths classified as homicides.  Bazelon acknowledges that the statistical likelihood of an arrest-related death is low, with 98 million arrests made during the same period, but calls the number “scary” in light of the ways that police departments appear to avoid publication of similar incidents.

Ultimately, Bazelon will “try to choose not to” involve police in the life of a black person if she can avoid it.  Many people share her sentiment, electing to attempt various forms of self-help before calling the authorities to respond to crime.

In some communities, people markedly avoid calling police, instead practicing “self-preservation” and often relying on local faith leadership to help them cope with harm they have suffered.  Columbus Police Commander Bob Meader acknowledges that people in inner-city neighborhoods, in particular, are typically more interdependent and “tolerate things in different ways” than people in suburban areas.  Meanwhile, ubiquitous media coverage and sensationalized commentary from all angles creates additional fear, confusion, and confrontation among observers, pushing more communities to look inward for help.

Whether institutional bias pervades police departments to the extent writers like Emily Bazelon suggest, or the wounds of violence in some communities are largely self-inflicted, the reality that many people cannot interact with police officers without panicking is a dangerous problem.

So, what should you do if the police stop you?  If you witness something dangerous, should you call the police?

  1. Your life is more important than your attitude, so don’t argue with an officer.

Whether the cop who stopped you is one of thousands of respectable officers of the law who will perform his duties admirably or one of the dangerous few who could make a lethal mistake, there is simply no reason to risk escalating a stop into a verbal confrontation (or worse).  It is imperative to remember that police officers constantly endure tremendous stress and forcing an officer to decide whether you could threaten his safety is a losing proposition.  When an officer stops you and wants to talk to you, speak to him as you hope he would speak to you if you wore the uniform: in a calm, respectful tone without cursing or shouting.

Magnifying Glass

  1. Comply with the officer’s orders and let him do his job.

Police officers responding to a possible crime have two primary goals: (1) restoring peaceful and safe conditions, and (2) investigating whether a crime has occurred and securing evidence to make an arrest, if necessary.  If a police officer witnessed an infraction, which is nearly always the case for traffic stops, then his decision whether to arrest you will not be positively influenced by a spirited debate.  Police officers are not prosecutors, judges, or your parents – trying to argue your case to them puts your safety and your legal rights at risk.  If you believe the officer is mistaken about whether you violated a law, you may politely explain yourself, but remember that whatever you say could be construed as a confession.  Attempting to combat an officer’s decision to arrest you by verbally or physically resisting will almost certainly result in graver legal consequences and could spiral into a violent altercation that you cannot win.

  1. Respond to basic questions, calmly refuse searches, and do not speak if you are placed under arrest.

Police are legally justified to engage anyone in consensual conversation, and can stop a person for a reasonable amount of time with articulable suspicion that the person is engaged in some criminal activity, including traffic violations.  Police may ask your name if the stop is justified, and it is generally advisable to comply rather than dispute the reasonable basis for the stop.  Police are also permitted to ask for your consent for a search, and may even suggest that they “already know” what you are hiding.  If an officer asks to search you, your vehicle, your home, or other property you control, you can always politely refuse.  Your refusal cannot be used against you, and if the officer proceeds without consent, whatever he finds might be excluded in court if you are later charged.  The most important thing to remember is that police misconduct can be corrected in court.  Unfortunately, however, the court cannot correct the pain or disability of injuries you suffer if a police officer, fearing for his safety, uses force to subdue you.

  1. If you witness a crime or think someone is in danger, call the police.

In perhaps the most famous misguided self-help case in recent history, George Zimmerman attempted to apprehend Trayvon Martin himself instead of waiting for police to arrive.  Zimmerman killed Martin, but was eventually acquitted of first-degree murder because the jury believed he acted in self-defense.  Regardless, Martin is dead and Zimmerman’s life is forever changed for the worse.  The lesson to be learned from Zimmerman is that your life and the lives of everyone else involved are imperiled if you don’t seek professional help for dangerous situations.  Just like you would call the fire department if you saw a burning house, you should call the police if you see someone breaking in through your neighbor’s window.  In the overwhelming majority of cases, police officers perform helpful and necessary work for the community and can turn dangerous situations into peaceful resolutions.

The Constitution can protect you from injustice, but not from loss of life.

The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments provide the backbone of criminal procedure and guide police practices whether the officer and suspect know the rules or not.  If an officer arrests you without cause, forcefully interrogates you without proper advisement of your rights, or denies access to counsel, the judge assigned to your case will unravel the damage to the extent possible under the law.  Judges cannot unravel injuries or death resulting from violent confrontations with police, however, no matter how extreme the conduct.  Don’t put your safety or that of the people around you at risk by forcing an officer to react to your conduct.  Instead, let your lawyer and your constitutional rights do the talking.

Sex Offender Registry Injustice

What was once a well-intentioned law that was meant to make the community a safer place has spiraled into a witch hunt looking to burn alive anyone who wears a pointed hat. While no one would argue that sex offenders should escape free of consequence, the lifetime sentence society has instilled upon these people is extreme. When we think sex offenders, our minds automatically travel to rapists, pedophiles and child molesters. The worst of the worst. Monsters who prey on innocent defenseless victims. Yet that term has come to include so much more.

Justice gravestone

The reason the registry was so heavily advocated for was because of the mistaken belief that sex offenders are more likely than not to strike again. It was believed the recidivism for sex offenders was the norm and not the exception. Although rapists and pedophiles may have the highest rate of recidivism they are not the only ones to be included in this all-encompassing registry. The Department of Justice places the likelihood of repeat sexual offenses around 14% at the high end. The registry was meant to be a warning to the community of dangerous offenders who were likely to repeat the offense that got them into trouble, but has turned into a permanent catch-all registry. The unfortunate fact is, most sexual offenses are committed by family members or someone known to the victim rather than a dangerous stranger. The registry is not particularly effective for preventing intrafamily crimes, aside from alerting people about registrants prior to starting a relationship with them.

Before we fly off the handle, there are definitely some sex offenders that are dangerous. There are some that are, and will always be, a danger to the community. However, not ALL sex offenders are a danger to the community. In fact, the majority of “sex offenders” are just people who made mistakes. The term “sex offender” has grown to encompass a myriad of people that were never supposed to be included on this list of dangerous offenders.

The best example is being placed on a sex offender registry for public urination. This cDrinks at a barharge is almost commonplace in Tempe, Arizona on Mill Avenue, where many young college students go out drinking and eventually have to use the facilities. Tempe does not offer public restrooms, so these patrons are forced to seek out a private restroom in a club. To get into the club, they must wait in line, show their ID, then (if they didn’t have to pay for entrance) run to the closest bathroom. There are no other alternatives – except behind a dumpster. Did the City of Tempe solve this issue by installing public restrooms or even port-a-johns? No, they did the next logical thing: started placing people who urinate in public on a sex offender registry.

This should be considered an abuse of the registry that was supposed to be keeping neighborhoods safe from sexual predators who stalk or kidnap their victims, strangers to the perpetrator, and force sexual acts upon them. There are certainly some people who deserve to be on this list forever, but the registry was never meant to include such “harmless” acts as peeing on the side of the highway miles away from the nearest rest stop. While those acts are technically illegal, a ticket and fine would be an appropriate punishment — not a lifetime on a sex offender registry.

Having these petty offenses qualify for registry status only serves to dilute the seriousness of being on the registry in the first place, reducing its effectiveness in warning neighborhood residents of potential risks. The registry was meant to keep communities safe, but has become a lifetime punishment for many people caught within its bloated scope. Does that make you feel safer?