Class of 2015, Internet School of Law

Via Ex-Cop Lawyer, a video of traffic stops and police encounters gone stupid.

No, this isn’t to say that the police officers’ handling was laudable, but that there are a great many people who are ridiculously obstinate in their interactions because they believe that they know the law, their rights, the Constitution, and what they are entitled to do. And they’re wrong.  Sometimes humorously. Sometimes frustratingly. Sometimes, just insufferably stupid.

It’s one thing to argue that you don’t agree with the law, that you think the law should be different. Most of us do, though we don’t usually agree with what we would change to make the world better.  Indeed, some would have the law go in exactly the opposite direction that you think it should. Never assume that most people think like you.

Watching this video, there is a strong likelihood that some will argue that they think one or more of the people in the video is within their rights, and the police are wrong.  Or more to the point, that they see the driver as morally correct and the officer as unreasonable, so they would argue that they would side against the cop.

But that’s a view of the law as we would want it to be. It has nothing to do with what the law is, for better or worse.  Each of us does not have a right to pull law from our butts, make it up as we go along and then expect others to comply with our personal vision of law.

My favorite line in the video comes at 17:06, where court officer “Pete Barnes” says, “that’s a nice speech, but you’re still not coming in.”

One of the most dangerous aspects of the internet, the availability of information and commentary online to anyone with a keyboard and the interest to look, is that they may well find information that misinforms, sometimes disastrously so, about the law.  Websites that provide some very useful, very interesting, very sound content also, on occasion, stray from their mission and introduce some terribly wrong and dangerous ideas to the mix.

Many people on the internet are looking for magic tricks that will allow them to deal with the police on their terms. When someone offers up a magic trick, with a rationalization that makes sense to the unwary, they seize upon it.  Should they try to use it, full of confidence that they have the secret that will not only allow them to skate past the evils they see in the system, but make them internet famous when their video goes viral showing how they pwned the cops, they end up in serious trouble.

Notably, how many people in the video kept repeating the question, “am I being detained, am I free to leave?”  The answer is that they are being detained and they are not free to leave. Why? Because it’s a traffic stop for a violation of traffic laws, and the police are authorized to detain you.  More to the point, you are obligated to provide license, registration and, according to your state, proof of insurance.

And during the course of a traffic stop, police are authorized to order you to remain in the car, get out of the car, open your window or close your window.  The police are authorized to issue whatever orders they feel are necessary for their safety, and almost never will a court second guess an officer’s order for that purpose.

There is no law that requires police to wear or not wear sunglasses, and a driver does not get to demand that a cop remove his sunglasses, no matter how they make her feel.  There are some departments which have dress policies that forbid reflector sunglasses, but that’s a matter of departmental policy, not law.

Regardless of what anyone on the internet said, myself included, if you are not a lawyer, you don’t know the law. You may know the words of a statute or the Constitution, but the law is more than words. The law is the concepts underlying the words. The law is the caselaw applying the words to a million variable situations.

The law is what protects you from that other flaming nutjob’s conduct, as he’s in a car just like you, and if his bad driving causes his car to hit yours, you may well die.  Just as we all bitch about some other driver who has no business being on the road, we too are obliged to follow the law, and just as we wish some cop would stop that other moron, or not violate the law himself, we too are subject to stop for our violations.

Yes, there is no shortage of gripes about how the police perform their function, and indeed, these videos leave much to be desired in the interaction between police and the public.  While the cops may not be legally in the wrong, these are not all videos of police who deserve medals for their courtesy and respect of the public.  And significantly, the use of Tasers as compliance tools strikes me as deeply problematic, though many departments allow them to be used for that purpose and many courts have no issue with their use in this fashion as well.

For some, doing anything less than refusing to be compliant is an act of blind submission to authority.  This is almost traitorous to some, as if being in the wrong, doing as they’re ordered by police who are acting fully within their authority, makes them cowards to the cause.  What cause?

Living in this nation involves accepting the reality that there are laws with which we have to comply. We may not like them. We may not agree with them, But we must still abide them.  You can fight to change them later, but if you refuse to adhere to them on the street, you will end up on the wrong end of an encounter.

Remember the video of the guy yelling at the female officer that she doesn’t get “civil disobedience”?  He’s got that backward.  If he chooses to engage in civil disobedience, then he pays the price for doing so. That’s what it means, not that police have to let you do as you please when you utter the words.

As much as you may disagree with the police, hate the fact that unarmed innocent people have been (and no doubt will be) killed, and think that the laws of this nation and all its subdivisions impair your rights, whether legal, natural or cosmic, that doesn’t entitle you to make up your own set of laws or rules and expect the police to cut you a break.

Sorry if the law as taught you on the internet hasn’t panned out as you hoped, but for the most part, it’s wrong and complying with police officers’ requests and commands for name, license, etc., will get you home safely and promptly. Just because some nutjob on the internets told you otherwise isn’t going to change that.

36 thoughts on “Class of 2015, Internet School of Law

  1. William Doriss

    This is Hollywood. These encounters are staged. Real encounters don’t go like these. Real cops are more respectful and persuasive; they don’t over-react or use “excessive force”. They know their limits and how to resolve tense situations peacefully. This is theater.
    Now I’d like to see some videos of POs testilying under oath in courts of law. Some of us can tell when someone is lying. Maybe Ex Cop can come up with some of those?

      1. Mort

        And only the po-po who have been specially trained can tell if people are lying…

        So, all of them have had special training? Neat. 🙂

  2. Wrongway

    But! But!.. Dammit I climbed the mountain & talked to that dude with the long beard..
    Yeah, this is what I’ve learned .. go with the flow.. then fight it later.. Be polite & act like a human being.. well a nice one anyways.. but even then it can still go bad..
    Question: in regards to the Sandra Bland case, it was suggested that ‘he requested’ she put out her smoke, .. is it appropriate to ask if that’s a request or an order ??

    Translation = I don’t know shit.. best not fight it there & then, cuz I’ll lose..
    I know a little like keep my mouth shut.. ask for an attorney, until the attorney arrives, basically, say nothing to anyone & refuse to sign anything..

    oh yeah, & never reach for your waist band or attempt to pull your pants up..
    cuz Lewenski..

    1. David M.

      I’m disgusted by your microaggression. I didn’t attend Wikipedia Yeshiva so you could talk down to me.

  3. John Barleycorn

    How many times do I have to tell you?

    Just don’t read what you are reading. Print more hat tips.

    Seriously .

    Most rubber bands rot in a month and want-\s are increasingly an “accurate” algorithm equation folding to learn anew. 7 in 10 isn’t that close. Bank the 7? The three is free!

    No D9 dozer here, But the “best of” your pre-breakfast aggregating harmony rollcalls… Displace the design and funding of tulip?

    Earth & Soil, you might…You could as well.

    What about love? Is it an afterthought only included as a hyper example?
    I still can’t figure out….your hurry.

    Print the wing-dam!

    You can, within a ten block radius hire out the logistical labor of ink.
    You should do it just for fun.

    There’re coming…

  4. st

    “Each of us does not have a right to pull law from our butts, make it up as we go along and then expect others to comply with our personal vision of law.”

    Unless you’re issued a blue costume, then you’re good to go.

    1. SHG Post author

      Must we reduce everything to the absurd? Isn’t it possible that every once in a while, we try to elevate thought rather than reduce it to the lowest common denominator?

  5. L

    I’m working on a theory that after you write a post, you do a whole mess of peyote, then log off, log back on as “John Barleycorn,” and comment on the post you just wrote. Am I close?

      1. losingtrader

        So, then you’re saying it still is me not understanding John? Damn, just when I thought I’d gotten past Dean Wermer’s admonitions….

        1. SHG Post author

          I find John amusing. Clear? No, but if you search for his hidden meaning, ponder a bit, click your heels three times, then watch his video, it all begins to make complete and total sense.

    1. phroggie

      Peyote would take too long to process, as Scott is typically back in short order. My money’s on salvia.

        1. phroggie

          Now I need to watch Glengarry Glen Ross again… “You think that I am fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. I’m here from downtown … and I’m here on a mission of mercy!”

  6. Ray Lee

    When I was young and just starting out in the Marine Corps, I had a talk with a really great Colonel who was addressing my natural inclination to provide him with the benefit of my insight. His response was a life lesson — a response even better than Court Officer Barnes. He said: “Ray, I may not always be right but I’m always the Colonel.” I’ve thought of that exchange a thousand times and appropriated it hundreds of time. The Police Officer who has pulled you (or me) over may not be always be right but he (or she) is always the one with a badge and a gun.

    1. SHG Post author

      Let’s not overstate the proposition. Yes, they have a shield and gun. No, it is not necessary to be obsequiously compliant to survive. But understanding when and how to push versus this idiocy is what distinguishes a minor inconvenience from a really bad day.

      1. Mort

        No, it is not necessary to be obsequiously compliant to survive.

        No, but the problem is that you have no idea what little thing you fail to do will be the thing that sets the cop off.

      2. Ray Lee

        Where in my comment is there a suggestion that obsequious compliance is called for (unless it was the mention of the Marine Corps combined with watching “A Few Good Men” so many times that it seems like real life)? When you are pulled over and the police officer is saying “open the door or I’m going to break the window,” it doesn’t matter whether you’ve found the magic trick on the internet or you are a Harvard educated lawyer with years of criminal trial experience and able to cite a controlling case on all fours, you either open the door or the window gets broken. The police officer may be right or he / she may be wrong as to his / her authority and / or the law (i.e., the “I may not always be right” portion) but if you don’t open the door, the window gets broken (i.e., the “but I’m always the Colonel” portion). Whether the police officer was right or wrong only matters, at most, as to whether he / she gets away with it.

        1. SHG Post author

          It was a matter of clarification. Your comment was sorely lacking in nuance. I added it so that it wouldn’t be misinterpreted. You can untwist your bloomers now.

    2. PubliusNH

      Distressing attitude for anyone who considers themselves citizens of this republic. The police officer who has pulled you over may not always be right, but he (or she) is always a public employee paid by your tax dollars to serve YOU and the public, pursuant to the Constitution and the law.

      The law requires an articulable suspicion of criminal conduct to detain an individual, anywhere, car or home. We have entered a new era where citizens armed with cell phone are now capable of recording these encounters they have with their employees, previously unreviewable, but now open to full view of the public on YouTube to ‘crowd source’ the legality or morality of the encounter.

      Since so many egregious incidents have been publicly displayed of obscene abuses by these employees with badges, the public is reaching critical mass on the militarized attitude of law enforcement that justify the most heinous and excessive use of force, as well as vulgar and disrespectful language toward the public. NEVER should a law enforcement officer lose sight of the proper relationship they have with those who pay their salary: respect at ALL times. For those that are unable to honor this relationship, they are unqualified to serve in that capacity and, should they transgress, should receive the stern spanking any disobedient child deserves and expects.

      [Ed. Note: Protip, use paragraph breaks if you want people to read your comment. I’ve added them in for you. You’re welcome.]

  7. Greg

    As I watched this video, I realized again how completely unfit I am to be a cop. I was losing my temper just listening to these morons on video, much less dealing with them in person. I don’t know how many of them I would have tased if I’d had the chance, but certainly more than one.

    1. SHG Post author

      There are some who think the non-cops in the video are heroes, brilliantly and bravely asserting their rights. The inanity of their not just being wrong, but being so tenaciously wrong, helps to appreciate the degree of tolerance it takes to be decent cop.

    2. William Doriss

      I believe you, Greg, are part of the problem, and not part of the solution. Pardon my French! We are experiencing an epidemic of police brutality and excessive use of force in the country at large. Especially against minorities and Hispanics. For the record, I am a WASP whose ancestors founded the bloody country, after decimating the native American Indians. (My lips are sealed no more!) We may have, and probably did, own . Hopefully, we treated them well?!? Have you read the press lately? Are you not paying attention? This is a tsunami of a police state; this a typhoon of police over-reaction unprecedented in the annals of Amerikan history. The Courts are too often a novel by Franz Kafka.
      Remember him,… if you went to college?

      There was actually a time–in the Golden Era–when we did not have uniformed police officers patrolling our streets and riding in their air-conditioned squad cars, high on DD coffee, and collecting their generous OT and early retirement benefits. And getting armored personnel carriers and assorted artillery from the army and the government. This has gone beyond the Beyond. Please wake up and smell the roses, for Godsake. The people are suffering under a police state with the highest incarceration rate in the world. And we call ourselves the Land of the Free? Puhleeeze!

      I know you mean well, but are off the mark here. Broke it up with appropriately spaced paragraphs, as per Rules. You are welcome.

      1. SHG Post author

        Then I too am part of the problem, Bill. You see, this isn’t just teams. There are good and bad, smart and stupid, right and wrong, on all sides. Just as the cops who can’t see this are blind, so are the people who only see cops as evil. No side owns justice. Certainly not the cops, but not the public either. The point is to survive together, not to eliminate the other team.

        1. William Doriss

          Am inclined to believe it is a war at worst; or a movie which will end badly, at best. Color me in disagreement. Have been seeing this, and feeling this way from my own personal experiences and perspective for some fifteen years,… for whatever it’s worth. Presently, with all the events and tragic encounters with LE around the country, I’m feeling vindicated. The pendulum must swing back the other way, sooner rather than later. The Get-Tough-on-Crime and the Broken Windows theories of policing have not worked. They are not working. They will never work. They’re wrong and misguided by well-meaning boosters of increased “law enforcement” tactics which targets the underprivileged and disadvantaged in our society. The courts are useless and meaningless, in my book: For the most part. Occasionally, they get one right. Big Deal, Scalia-breath! We would rather see nine guilty men go free than one innocent man go to prison for life for a crime he did not commit–or killed by a trigger-happy newbie cop.

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