Two weeks ago, this column gave you Student Legal Services’ “golden rule” when it comes to your behavior during a police confrontation: “Be Smart, Be Nice and Be Quiet.”
We’ve been challenged that our advice — to stay quiet, to not incriminate yourself and to not consent to warrantless searches — encourages you to be irresponsible, to violate others’ rights and to be uncooperative with authority in order to get away with it.
First, our advice applies to behavior during a police confrontation. It does not conflict with another golden rule, which is the Golden Rule that we also advise for your daily dealings with people. We all know this rule. It appears to exist in every religion and culture. For example:
Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”
Buddhism: “. a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?”
From the Talmud: “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary.”
Islam: “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.”
Take the case of loud parties. When we throw an obnoxious party that disturbs our neighbors, we are violating our neighbors’ property rights – and we’re violating the Golden Rule. We shouldn’t do that. Student Legal Services does not encourage you to harm others in that way.
However, when the police come knocking, we still want you to exercise your constitutional rights. That doesn’t mean you’re going to get away with the crime. Be clear that, in Fort Collins, “making an unreasonable noise” is a misdemeanor crime carrying a penalty of $1,000 and a criminal record for the rest of your life. It does mean that you are not going to consent to a search of your house or make admissions that could make things worse.
Self-interest is not the only reason to exercise your rights. We are in danger of losing our rights set forth in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution.
In 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, our government passed the USA Patriot Act, which stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” Because the law enabled law enforcement to take action against aliens and citizens without abiding by previous constitutional safeguards, it contained a sunset provision designed to make the law expire on its own.
However, the Patriot Act was reauthorized in 2005 and 2006, with new sunset provisions. The historical consequence is clear — lose rights and you never get them back.
We all need practice exercising our constitutional rights. It’s not easy to remain silent in the face of police questioning. It’s not easy to say “no” when someone in uniform and authority wants to take a look inside your house.
But if we don’t practice these rights, they will be lost, limits on government power will be gone and we will resemble all the other countries that do not have a bill of rights.
Our advice is simple: Don’t violate others’ rights (and that includes not invading them with obnoxious party noise); when confronted by police, be smart, nice and quiet (you can exercise your rights and still be respectful to police); and keep an eye on what the federal government is doing with the Patriot Act and your rights.
Kathleen Harward is the director of Student Legal Services. SLS’ column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.