What should you do if an officer pulls you over and tries to search your car? Asks for your identification? Tries to arrest you? Most people have no idea, according to Rob Poggenklass J.D. ’10.
As part of Student Rights Week, Poggenklass, one of 17 public defenders in Newport News came to the College of William and Mary Thursday to speak on and answer questions about student rights involving police procedures.
He said there is little crime in Williamsburg, especially compared with Newport News.
As a public defender who deals with everything from petty larceny to first degree murder, Poggenklass frequently works with clients who get in trouble when they could have prevented it.
“Most people don’t know their rights,” Poggenklass said. “They get stopped on the street and they don’t know what to do.”
David Harger ’11 attended the talk and said he considers it very important for students to know they have rights and to know what they are.
“Ignorance is prevalent on campus,” Harger said. “If you want to protect yourself, you need to know how.”
In his lecture, Poggenklass outlined the points of the Bill of Rights, which are the most basic personal rights.
One of most important of these is the Fourth Amendment, which states “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated… but upon probable cause.”
From this amendment comes the exclusionary rule: if a person is searched unreasonably, any evidence found in that search is suppressed.
“The American system is different in this way from other countries,” Poggenklass said. “If evidence was gotten illegally, it can’t be used. The number one way we beat cases is to suppress evidence under the Fourth Amendment.”
The problem with the exclusionary rule is that if someone gives consent to be searched, the search is legal, even if the officer has no probable cause. When an officer asks to search a person, car or house, the person does not have to allow it.
Officers need a search warrant if there is no probable cause. The sight or smell of anything suspicious, however, such as alcohol or marijuana, is probable cause.
For this reason, if the police come to a party where there is incriminating evidence, the owner of the house has the option to not allow the officer to come in without a warrant.
“The bottom line is that when there’s a party and the police get involved, the party’s over,” Poggenklass said. “The question is whether you’re going to [get in trouble with the police]. Once they get a warrant, there’s nothing they can’t look for.”
Exigent circumstances automatically grant police to the right to search. These circumstances include an emergency, such as an injury or a serious crime, or the previous discovery of someone breaking the law in a serious way — incident to arrest.
According to Poggenklass, the best thing one can do if arrested is to be quiet.
“Anything you say could be used against you, so you should just ask for a lawyer,” he said.