“I Know My Rights”

kids.jpgIf you’ve lived on Mother Earth long enough, you’ve encountered a smart-assed kid that (a) has no respect for authority, and (b) knows his rights. So, how do police officers respond to someone that tells them they “know their rights?” As a general rule, and I think you can find this in the FDLE Field Training Manual–most officers reach for their handcuffs and billy-club, though not necessarily in that order. I’m just saying.

In the case of G.T. v. State, a juvenile appealed her conviction for resisting an officer without violence. 120 So. 3d 141 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013) This incident began as most juvenile cases do, with a call from a neighbor complaining of a “disturbance of juveniles drinking and smoking.” It shouldn’t surprise you that juveniles do not understand the concept of “being quiet”, and such immaturity provides a constant revenue stream for Crime Inc., so nobody seems to mind. Anyway, the police arrive at the apartment complex and see six teenagers hanging out, one is holding an empty “Bacardi Silver” bottle. Some alcohol connoisseurs may argue that this–in and of itself–is grounds to at least harass these teens, but you cannot pass judgment on teenage drink selections, as it is often a question only of what they can steal from their parents. So, blame the parents for poor taste. Once the officer detained the kids he noticed that several of the teens were drunk, because they had red, glossy eyes and slurred speech. The officer started things off by asking for their names, birthdays, and parental contact information .
All the teenagers played along with the name game, except G.T., she refused to give any information because she “knows her rights.” Now, we all know somebody that “knows their rights”–and that’s OK so long as they actually know what they’re talking about (but that’s kind of rare, unfortunately). As you might expect, and as my informal studies have shown, the police are not too fond of folks that “know their rights”. Most people that “know their rights” get themselves arrested, and, depending on how much they know, the police may even provide a complimentary beat down. G.T. knew just enough about her rights to get herself arrested for resisting an officer without violence and disorderly intoxication. So, was G.T. right? Was she legally entitled to refuse to give her name and information to the police? Did she really know her rights?

To get to the bottom of this question, we’ll start with an analysis of the charges. Resisting an officer without violence requires proof of two things; (1) the officer was doing something job related, and (2) the defendant obstructed, resisted, or opposed the officer’s performance of that legal duty. Id at 143. In this case, the officer thought it was his legal duty to detain G.T. for questioning, but the officer must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Id. Was it enough to see one out of six kids with an empty beer bottle? No, it wasn’t. To detain someone, the officer’s suspicion must be “particularized” for “the particular person stopped of criminal activity” id. Yes, I hate it when the courts use the same boring words over and over, but that’s the law, my friends. G.T. wasn’t holding anything–so the officer had no right to detain her. As a side note, this issue comes up quite frequently on possession of cannabis cases in which law enforcement smells weed emanating from a group of teenagers. Under such circumstances, the courts have held a person merely “standing with a group of individuals surrounded by the odor of burned marijuana” is not sufficient to detain that individual. See A.T. v. State, 93 So. 3d 1159, 1160 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012).

What about the slurred speech and glossy eyes? Isn’t that evidence enough to detain these teenagers? No it’s not, because the officer discovered these facts after he detained the kids. Had he known this before he detained them, that would be a different story. In the end, the appeals court held that “because the officer lacked reasonable suspicion and was therefore not engaged in the lawful execution of a legal duty, G.T.’s refusal to answer the officer’s questions did not constitute obstruction. Therefore, we reverse” and dismiss all charges. Id at 143-144. And there you have it, G.T. really did know her rights. Maybe she wasn’t such a smart-ass after all. I guess I rushed to judgment on this one, sorry G.T.