1. Do not leave home without your driver’s license, registration or car-insurance certificate. No, it is not an American Express card, but in many states the failure to produce a driver’s license or registration can actually be grounds for arrest. It is certainly grounds for an officer to detain you. An arrest means the officer can search you and inventory your vehicle against your will.
2. Do not refuse to sign a ticket. In most jurisdictions, if you are given a citation or notice to appear, you are required to sign the ticket, which only promises that you appear. It is not an admission of guilt. It is, however, an arrestable offense if you refuse to sign.
3. Do not leave thy stash in open view. So you are headed into a club, and thought it would be cool to smoke a doobie just before leaving your car. Then you leave the joint in the ashtray and a policeman makes his rounds and sees the weed in clear view. You are history. So is your car.
4. Do not fail to pay your tickets. As important as it is to keep your driver’s license with you, it is more important that you keep it valid. I can’t list the countless times cops have stumbled upon major drug seizures because the courier they stopped for speeding had a suspended license, an arrestable offense, for failing to pay a traffic ticket that might have only cost him 50 bucks.
5. Do not run thy mouth at the police officers. Yes, you have the right to free speech. But an officer conducting an investigation will have no problem busting you on some crocked-up charge, like disorderly conduct, if you disrespect him in front of his peers, or start an argument that impedes his investigation.
6. Do not resist arrest, physically or verbally. Even if you are innocent, once the cops have decided to arrest you, do not add to your problems by verbally or physically resisting. Let your lawyer challenge your arrest in court . You must not challenge it in the street. If you do, you will wind up bleeding in the gutter, and find yourself charged additionally with resisting arrest-or assaulting an officer, depending on how badly you’re hurt.
7. Do not confess. You really do have a right to remain silent. It is not a crime to refuse to answer questions asked to you about a crime. If you admit to one, it allows the police to arrest and search you. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. If you are stopped for questioning in a public place, it is not a crime to refuse to identify yourself. If you are in or about a motor vehicle, however, police may ask you to produce identification.
8. Do not make admissions to your friends. Suppose you are traveling up I-95 with contraband. You get pulled over, and you advise the unwitting passenger that, “Gee, I hope that cop does not smell the 20 pounds I have in the trunk.” If your friend admits anything to the police, that gives them a valid basis to suspect you, bring a drug dog and then conduct a perimeter search.
9. Do not consent to searches. Or to anything else. Cops love searching you. They like copping a feel. They may pat down your clothing if they suspect a concealed weapon. But do not make it easy for them. Make it clear that you do not agree to any further searches of your person, your car or your house without a warrant. They will threaten to hold you there while you wait. That’s a small price to pay for asserting your rights and not waiving them. If the cops believe they have probable cause to search, let your lawyer challenge them later. You simply object; do not resist.
10. Do not make furtive movements. This is harder than it seems. But your police encounter should be reasonably polite. You have to stay calm and relaxed. Keep your hands where police can see them. If you start sweating, appear intoxicated, reach into your pockets or create the impression that something is wrong, you raise the thermometer of suspicion, and thus give police a chance to detain you lawfully.
11. Do not carry prescription medicines outside the pharmacist’s bottle. If you are taking pills under a doctor’s advice, you must house those pills in the little amber bottles you get from the drug store. In most states, it is illegal to carry prescription medication without the bottle, which provides lawful proof that you are entitled to carry that particular controlled substance. Not carrying the bottle sets the most innocent person up for a felony arrest.
12. Do not believe that any promises the police make to you are binding. No promises a police officer makes to you, in exchange for consent or a search or a confession, are binding upon a prosecuting agency. The district attorney’s office may or may not follow law enforcement’s recommendation. It is discretionary, not mandatory.
13. Do not mix your “greens.” Currency and cannabis are a combustible pair. If an officer smells pot, sees you are carrying a large amount of cash, and you cannot explain from whence it came, the cops will seize and forfeit the cash. You will have to go to court to get your money back, money that you could have used for bonds and counsel.
14. Do not carry more than you can swallow. Listen, if I have to explain this to you, I might be breaking some Bar Association rules. So just figure it out.
15. Do not trash your stash. Garbage is golden. At least the police think so. The law allows them to go through your trash. Because once you wheel your garbage to the curb, it is considered abandoned property. Cops can use contraband they find in your trash to acquire a warrant to search your home.
16. Do not play with your meters. A common way hydroponic growers get caught is because they tampered with their electric meter, and some nosy telephone repairman, gas man or meter reader noticed it and contacted authorities. Because it is a crime to tamper with an electric meter, that gives the police probable cause to bring drug dogs onto your property and even search your home.
17. Do not admit police into your home. If the police knock on your door and indicate that they would like to come in, you should ask them to produce a warrant signed by a judge. If you elect to allow them in, you also invite them to seize anything they find in open view that is contraband or illegal. If there is an emergency where someone appears to be at risk, police may enter without your consent, and without a warrant. (See rule number 6: Do Not Resist.)
18. Do speak to a criminal-defense lawyer. Many people are just plain afraid to ask lawyers simple questions that, if asked, would give answers to difficult problems. Most states have low-cost lawyer-referral services, and many attorneys offer free consultations. Check your Yellow Pages. Get advice before you really need it.
19. Do file complaints. If you believe that you have been mistreated or wrongfully accosted by law enforcement, it is imperative that you file a written complaint with the internal affairs agency of that police force. These are public records, and it gives future litigants an opportunity to see if the department or individual officer has a custom, pattern or policy of abuses.
20. Do take photographs and make witness lists. If you have an encounter with law enforcement that is less than favorable, document it. Remember the officers’ badge numbers or names, or the number of their patrol car unit. Record as quickly as possible, while it is fresh in your mind, what occurred that was improper. Get statements from witnesses, and their phone numbers.
21. Do get medical attention. The most common thing a lawyer hears from an arrestee is that a cop unnecessarily or unfairly struck or manhandled him. Police often place handcuffs on your wrists quickly and brutally, and they cause injuries, particularly if they are too tight. If you want to complain about this later, it is imperative you document it promptly upon your release from custody. See a doctor and develop a record.
22. Do keep your deed handy. If you engage in the kind of activity that you might think is moral, but which society has deemed criminal, you want to make sure that you can get out of jail if you are arrested. To do this, you will be required to post a bond, which is an insurance policy guaranteeing your appearance in court. Since bonds are in the thousands of dollars, most people put their home up as collateral. This requires you to have access to your deed.
23. Do write your Congressman about drug and forfeiture laws. Make sure that your voice is heard in the public debate about drug law reform. Your right to remain silent does not apply here. Make a difference. The more people that come out of the closet for marijuana-law reform, the less likely it is that politicians will cater to the forces of the Drug War. Letters to the editor of local media also work favorably for us.
24. Do send donations to NORML and other marijuana-related organizations. OK, so you don’t have time to write or fight. Well, support the people that do: the National Organization for Reform of the Marijuana Laws, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Forum and a wealth of other freedom-fighting organizations that desperately need your help. If you don’t stick up for your fellow stoners, who will stick up for you?
25. Do learn to surf the Internet. An electronic encyclopedia that is updated daily, the Internet has a wealth of information about medical marijuana, legal reforms, marijuana policy and political organizations, as well as chat groups to address initiatives, hemp issues, urine testing, recent legislative battles and more. On my own Website, www.normkent.com, I have listed over two dozen such groups.
Good luck. Stay free. And remember, when you are smashing the state, keep a smile on your lips and a song in your hearts.