Deadly Legal Takes

Ed. Note: This isn’t a post about what happened to Lt. Caron Nazario. I make that absolutely clear up front because I will be brutal about it later in the comments. Don’t go there.

For the most part, the twitter account @BadLegalTakes has a fun, if overwhelming, time, retwitting screen caps of legally ignorant things being spewed on twitter, mostly by non-lawyers, but occasionally by lawyers and even the President of the United States. There is no shortage of legal ignorance, with a certainty of correctness that would make Dunning and Kruger blush.

For the most part, they are laughably dumb, but generally harmless. Once in a while, however, they come from a twitter account of someone with a sufficiently large following, famous or credible as to go beyond amusing into the realm of dangerous. Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people will see the twit and believe it to be accurate and rely upon it. At their peril.

MSNBC anchor Joy Reid issued such a twit. There is a possibility that someone, maybe a black life, will die because of her breathtaking ignorance.

Reid has more than two million followers on twitter. As a cable news anchor on a network that’s blindly accepted by members of her faith, she posseses ascribed, if utterly unearned, credibility. And she just told them that they have rights, that they should stand up for those rights, in a way calculated to get them beaten, to get them killed. If it happens, she will no doubt blame it on the usual culprits, but that would be a lie. Joy Reid, in her stunning idiocy, is responsible.

My initial reaction to seeing this from the @BadLegalTweets, since I’m not a close follower of things Joy Reid twits, was to add in by quote this:

This is a particularly dangerous bit of idiotic horseshit that could get you killed.

My language is strong in the hope that it might catch a few heads to alert people that this was not the usual “funny” bad legal twit, but a dangerous one. A deadly one. I followed up with this.

No, you do not have a right, constitutional or otherwise, to be told why you’re being stopped.

No, police are not required to answer that or any other question.

Yes, they can command you to get out of the car and if you refuse to obey, they can forcibly remove you.

For most lawyers, particularly criminal defense lawyers, this is too obvious to be worthy of discussion. Many people will argue that the law, at least as applied to any particular fact pattern, isn’t what they feel it should be, or that the cops could have, and should have, done better. All of that may be true, although rarely do non-lawyer commenters have a sufficiently firm grasp of law to appreciate that the laws apply to myriad situations, and don’t change when a driver is of a particular race, or is particularly sympathetic, or one can totally understand why someone refuses to obey a lawful order.

The law does not compel police to be foul-mouthed vicious brutes, taking the opportunity to make an interaction more confusing, stressful and threatening. The law does not require police to use the greatest amount of force the law permits. The law does not preclude police from demonstrating the smallest degree of empathy and understanding as to why a scenario is happening the way it is, so as to not only satisfy the First Rule of Policing, for the cops to make it home for dinner, but to allow everyone to make it home for dinner.

First, survive. The rule is “comply now, grieve later.” Yes, even compliance is no guarantee that cops won’t beat you or kill you, but it vastly enhances your likelihood of survival. Yes, there are extreme cases where cops engage in outrageous illegal conduct toward compliant people, from forcing women in custody to engage in sex to a toilet plunger handle rammed up a man’s anus.  But these are extreme outliers. Of a million police interactions, most end with no harm coming to anyone. Do what you have to do to survive the encounter, then fight like hell about it later.

A few hours after @BadLegalTakes’ twit, after my twit, Joy Reid deleted her expounding on the law and updated it.

Will the million eyeballs who saw her initial twit, who retwitted it and commented gushingly about her bold stance, see her subsequent twit? Does her “update” undo the damage of her breathtaking ignorance, “and I am not a lawyer” which did nothing to prevent her from playing one on twitter, and correct her outrageously dangerous assertions? The ACLU post about being stopped by police is fine, but people don’t click through and read the posts linked in twits, particularly when they have already read a twit that tells them what they want to believe.

Joy Reid could have quoted her earlier twit and informed her more than two million followers that what she said was ignorant, wrong and dangerous. She could have told them not to do what she claimed they could do. She could have said that following her “and I am not a lawyer” advice could get them killed. She could have. But she didn’t.

And it is of no avail that there are instances where the “rule” failed, where cops did horrible things despite a person being compliant. These things happen. Not with the frequency people claim, but that they happen at all is inexcusable. But this doesn’t change the law, even if you feel it should. There are, in most instances, sound reasons why the law plays out as it does, even if it’s overly reliant on the good faith and reasonableness of police in the performance of their duties. This is why there is need for reforms, although not the simplistic reforms most scream about on social media and, sadly, not even the real reforms that are oversold by deceitful proponents, like the abolition of qualified immunity.

Fight for smart, sustainable, viable reform. Condemn police abuse and misconduct, But you can’t do that if you’re dead. People like Joy Reid will end up killing people with their ignorance. Don’t lives matter?

27 thoughts on “Deadly Legal Takes

  1. Chris Van Wagner

    Frankly, she should have quoted your tweet, ‘fessed up to her ignorant, dangerous take, and thanked you for showing why follower levels do not equal constitutional accuracy levels. After which, pigs would fly, of course.

  2. Sloopyinca

    The challenging parts for the person being pulled over in this instance are:
    1. He chose to consider his and the officer’s safety so he drove to a well-lit area
    2. He had no idea what he’d done to warrant being pulled over so probably expected the cop to more casually approach him as if it were a normal traffic infraction
    3. It’s impossible to comply with contradictory orders being barked at you from two directions by two people pointing guns at you.

    1. SHG Post author

      Apparently, my note at the start was too unclear for people suffering from terminal intellectual challenges or psychotic pathologies. Do not do this. Any further comments like this get trashed.

      1. Sloopyinca

        I was mainly addressing your “comply now, grieve later” statement and how that’s not exactly possible given the circumstances of this stop.

        1. SHG Post author

          You could have raised your point about the problem with conflicting commands without making it about “this” stop. Instead, you did the one thing I admonished would not be tolerated. Now you’re done.

    1. SHG Post author

      One of the most dangerous things people do is assume their anecdotal experience reflects an overarching solution. There is no right to demand a supervisor. It’s good that it worked well in that instance, but the next guy who refuses to obey orders after believing this is his right might not be so lucky.

      1. Chris Hundt

        I had never heard of this “right” before. I gather that in some jurisdictions requesting a supervisor may actually get you one. But it defies logic to think that it is legal, let alone advisable, to ignore officers’ orders until the supervisor arrives.

        1. SHG Post author

          Different departments have different rules, some (I guess) requiring a supervisor upon request. Want to bet your life on it? I don’t.

  3. Guitardave

    This is the exact issue that caused me to discover SJ. ( Now go say a little prayer that some other mutton head non-lawyer like me don’t show up at this here hotel wanting to argue non-facts. 🙂 )

    I too, sincerely believed this, ‘they GOT to tell you why’ idea for years. Older friends, with more education than me (but not in law) believed it, so i never did the research for myself, and took their word for it.

    That idea, along with a deep disdain for ‘authoritarian followers’, led to a situation that, even though I didn’t realize it till later, had me within inches of a very, very bad outcome.

    My window was only open 2 inches, my cards were in my hand and the cop could see them. When he unsnapped his holster after the second time I said, in a starting-to-get-pissed-off kinda voice, “WHY did you pull me over?” it just pissed me off even more. He didn’t say what I thought he legally HAD to say. Add to that the non-verbal threat of the holster unsnapping, coming from some skinny-assed 20 year old punk with a badge…my response was not fear…

    So what did I do?…righteous dumb-ass that I am, I doubled-down, and said in a very stern commanding voice, “WHY DID YOU PULL ME OVER?” (Talk about dancing on a high wire)

    Due to the very same BS this twit put forth, I was now, unknowingly, at the pivot point of life changing/ending event.

    I’m not sure as to why he backed down…he was young and, as I’ve been told more than once, I can be pretty intimidating when my heckles are up, I could see he was nervous … but thank God he said, with some frustration, “your brake light was out” . I handed him my cards.

    I drove away with a warning and an even worse attitude about punks-with-guns-and-badges who don’t even know the laws they’re enforcing….and without a clue about what could have LEGALLY happened.

    A week or two later, after an argument at the bar with a badge licking social-worker who worked with cops in ‘crazy-person’ events, I decided it was time for some self-education and research on the facts. That led me here….and the rest is history.

    That so called ‘right’, that I believed to be absolute truth, died kicking and screaming…and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT, Scott H. Greenfield!
    And I’ll be forever grateful.

    If I had another cop encounter before getting straightened out, I may not be here to say this.
    Thank you, my friend.

    PS: If this personal anecdote/ tummy rub doesn’t add something worthwhile to the point of the post, do what you must.
    Onward and Upward, GD.

    1. SHG Post author

      You get to say things that others might not because you’re you and I can be arbitrary because it’s my house. Over my many years, I’ve heard, seen, written about and read about more variations of this theme than most people can imagine. That’s why I focus on the question rather than any particular case, where idiosyncratic details can be used to avoid squarely facing the hard issues.

      I wish I had “answers” that would work for everyone in every case. I don’t, and I don’t believe anyone does. My primary motivation is to save lives, after which we can do our best to confront the problems as best we can. Dead people make good martyrs, but little else.

    2. B. McLeod

      I just tell them, “These are not the droids you’re looking for,” and they let me pass.

  4. John Barleycorn

    Legal advice on the front pages of SJ…

    Go figure?

    P.S. Did the price of Twitter Bots creating “followers” increase or decrease during the pandemic and can we expect a tutorial on that sometime this week? @2 million followers is a big number but just a number.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Very Nice!

        The rumors going around on the impatient wards has always had it that The Mr. Soze has quite the archive.

        Very gentlemanly of him…

  5. Drew Conlin

    There is a lawyer here in Michigan that does short You tube videos. A few things that caught my attention _ police upon detaining do not have to state why even if arrested ; at some point individuals are entitled to know but not at that point. The other is having to provide ID under any circumstances varies between states…..a lawyer friend tells me when he is traffic stopped he has his license and registration on the dashboard with hands on the wheel.
    Neither of these are criminal defense guys. I find this helpful as it applies so widely to many circumstances.

    1. SHG Post author

      Since this is a crim law blawg, for lawyers and judges, you’re telling us this why? There are many things members of the public believe to be either the law or their rights that are mistaken, and some of these things have been raised here or in other crim law blawgs where the people writing about them are subject area exerts in the past posts. Many of these errors about law are propagated by lawyers who lack expertise and put up You Tube videos.

  6. Steve White

    I keep going back to requiring Civics classes in high school – maybe junior high. In addition to “Two Senators per state, Congressman by population, President appoints, Senate confirms….”, give the kids a week of how to deal with the police and come out OK. Perhaps it can be encapsulated as “Do not agree to
    anything, but comply with everything” ?
    And, also under the subject of “Civics” – a couple of lessons on media’s responsibility, or lack of same, to give good legal advice, or for that matter, convey accurate information about anything, ever.
    It may be kind of sad to see some youthful innocence stripped away, as a good Civics lesson will do to many kids, but it seems clear they are not going to get it in college, so….

    1. DaveL

      give the kids a week of how to deal with the police and come out OK.

      We teach kids how to survive encounters with bears, would-be kidnappers, or house fires. We don’t give them training on how to survive encounters with mail carriers, accountants, or roofers. That’s because we expect the latter to conform to adult standards of civilized behavior. By teaching children specific skills for surviving police encounters, we would essentially be making a conscious decision as a society to classify police officers alongside psychopaths, wild animals, and mindless forces of nature. That ought to alarm anybody, especially the police themselves.

  7. Callmy Lawyer

    This whole Woke righteous anger pisses me off.

    I’m a rich, politically connected white guy. My dad was a rich, politically connected white guy.

    If you ever get pulled over by the police: yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir.

    I may know the governor, or the governor’s golfing buddy. But I need to survive long enough to make that phone call.

    Sure I’m going to sell the state trooper’s family and his superior’s family into slavery after we’re done. But first we’re going to say whatever is necessary to survive and escape this encounter.

    I don’t know if these woke people are knaves or fools. Pretty sure they’re knaves, but goddamn are there a lot of idiots out there. Rich white people teach their kids to comply, be submissive, and do whatever (without admitting shit). Preserve issues for appeal and the judge, don’t be a martyr. We’ll call our people in an hour and unleash hell. But first, survive.

    I’m definitely going to see that state trooper’s grandmother sold in a Malian slave market though. I am karma’s embodiment on earth and she’s a vengeful bitch.

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