Know your rights before Spring Break

Nadia Dreid

Thirty percent of Americans will be arrested by the age of 23 and with only a few days left before Spring Break of 2015, it is important for everyone to be made aware of their rights.

Spring break is generally a time when interaction between college students and law enforcement increases and regardless of the situation, individuals should be aware of their rights, says Flex Your Rights, a nonprofit organization dedicated to informing citizens of their civil liberties.

You have the right to remain silent.

The Fifth Amendment protects Americans from being compelled to incriminate themselves. This means that in a police encounter, you are not required to speak to the officer – with two small exceptions. The Supreme Court has ruled that an individual seeking to exercise their right to remain silent must say so to the officer. Also, Georgia is a stop-and-identify state, meaning that state law says that you are required to identify yourself to law enforcement if asked.

You also have the right to know why you are being detained. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggests asking the officer, “Am I free to leave?” and leaving quietly if he or she says yes. If the answer is no, then you are being detained and the officer must tell you what crime she/he suspects you of committing.

You have the right to refuse a search.

In order for law enforcement to search an individual’s person or car, they must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. However, if an officer requests permission to conduct a search, individuals always have a right to refuse.

The officer may still search you anyway, but they must have probable cause that a crime is being or has been committed in order to do so. The ACLU warns individuals not to resist, even if they feel the search is unwarranted.

Flex Your Rights says that if you want to refuse a search, you should state calmly and clearly, “I do not consent to any searches.” They say refusing a search can give you stronger standing in court, if a judge rules the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to conduct the search to begin with.

You don’t have to open the door for the police.

The Supreme Court has ruled that you have the strongest constitutional protection against search and seizure in your home. Unless officers are pursuing an active criminal, they cannot enter your home without a warrant or consent.

If the police come to your door and you wish to speak with them, Flex Your Rights suggests stepping outside and shutting and locking the door behind you. The reason for this is that officers may enter your home if the notice anything illegal “in plain view.”

You may also choose not to answer the door, unless they have a search warrant, which Flex Your Rights says you have the right to inspect before granting officers entry.

However, Flex Your Rights stresses the importance of educating everyone in your home on their civil liberties in a police encounter, because anyone with access to the home can legally consent to its search. This means it’s legal for your landlord or your roommate to let the police in. The organization suggests keeping your room shut or locked, since courts will generally rule that if an area is considered off-limits to someone in the home, they cannot consent to its search.

Living on campus provides less constitutional protection against search and seizure, so Flex Your Rights suggests becoming familiar with your rental agreement, which should specify when school officials or law enforcement cannot enter.

Statistics gathered from a 2011 study published by Pediatrics, an academic pediatric journal.