Tag Archives: Legal First Aid

Get Out of Jail After Arrest – Tips for Getting Your Loved One Out

liberty-torch2-ps-cr-smOut of the blue – someone you love has been arrested and is in jail.  What should you do?  What do you need to know?  Here is a handy guide with ten tips on how to get your loved one out of jail and other essential information.

He or she is in jail.  That means their ability to act on their own behalf is severely limited – at least until they get out.

Keep these ten tips in mind:

1.  Regain emotional balance

Being arrested and jailed is just about always a huge shock, and an unwelcome one at that.  This may be even more true for loved ones, who may feel a flood of conflicting emotions from anger to sadness to a sense of powerlessness.

But there are things you can do to help.  Gaining knowledge and asserting some control will help you (and your loved one) regain your emotional balance; and your ability to begin problem-solving.

2.  Phone calls from jail

It is vital to understand that phone calls from jail are recorded and generally provided to police investigators and prosecutors.  The last thing a criminal defense lawyer like Thomas Gallagher wants to see is one or more sets of discs labeled “jail calls” provided by the prosecutor as pretrial discovery in one of his cases.

As a result, learn and apply this rule:  “Avoid talking about the incident or alleged offense that led to arrest or criminal charges over the phone when one party is in jail.”

Of course you’re curious.  Of course they may want to tell.  But don’t ask about it until they are out.  And don’t let them tell you or talk about it on the phone!

Patience is even more important when the person is actually innocent, since words can be and often are twisted to help convict the innocent.

3.  Big picture vs. immediate problem

The most important thing in the long run will be how the criminal case turns out in the end, the outcome.  Nothing should be done to jeopardize that in any way (for example, jail phone calls).

In the short run, however, it’s important to get the accused person out of jail quickly if at all possible.  Why?  Having a job not only provides needed income, it also helps reassure that the accused is less likely to break the law in the future.

But most importantly, when people are held in jail waiting trial they generally become demoralized and are more likely to plead guilty – even when they are innocent.

4.  Minnesota criminal defense lawyer

Consulting a criminal defense lawyer is a good idea.  We can help with everything discussed here, and then some.  When someone has been recently arrested we (criminal defense lawyers) should help educate loved ones supporting the accused and the accused about the big picture solutions as well as solving the immediate problem of getting out on a pre-trial basis.

Start with a phone call.  A jail visit may follow.

5.  Bail bond company

When someone has recently been arrested and may have a pretrial release hearing coming up, a good bail bond company can provide helpful services, well beyond simply posting a bail bond with the court.  The criminal defense lawyer should be able to recommend one.

6.  Arrest without an arrest warrant

Many people in jail were arrested without an arrest warrant.  (An arrest warrant would include a preliminary finding of “arrest probable cause” by a judge.)  In Minnesota we have the so-called 36 hour and 48 hour rules limiting how long a person can be detained (in jail) without a judicial finding of arrest probable cause.  Due to rules about which days count towards those limits, you may not need to know right now the specifics of how those rules are applied.

What you really want to know is “how long can they hold my loved one without filing a criminal charge with the court; and without a pre-trial release (bail) hearing before a judge?”

The easiest way to find out is to ask the jail: “what is the deadline for releasing him or her if charges haven’t been filed?”  The Deputy at the jail will normally tell you, “noon,” of such-and-such day of the week.  To go beyond that call Thomas Gallagher or another Minnesota criminal defense lawyer.

7.  Arrest with an arrest warrant

Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 3.02, Subd. 2. “Directions of Warrant. The warrant must direct that the defendant be brought promptly before the court that issued the warrant if the court is in session.  If the court specified is not in session, the warrant must direct that the defendant be brought before the court without unnecessary delay, and not later than 36 hours after the arrest, exclusive of the day of arrest, or as soon as a judge is available.” See also, Rule 4.01.

8.  Right to Pretrial Release

The Minnesota Constitution includes two clauses guaranteeing the right to bail.  The first says “excessive bail shall not be required.” Minn. Const. Article 1, § 5, similar to the United States Constitutional protection against excessive bail.

The Minnesota Constitution, however, also provides: “All persons before conviction shall be bailable by sufficient sureties, except for capital offenses.” Minn. Const. Article l, § 7. Under Section 7, all persons are entitled to bail except those charged with capital offenses.

Because Minnesota no longer has the death penalty, all defendants have the right to have bail set, to pretrial release.

9.  Pretrial release hearing

A judge determines the conditions of release.

Conditions, including bail, are meant to assure a person’s appearance at future court proceedings. Court rules tell judges to release individuals without conditions unless a judge determines that such a release “will endanger the public safety or will not reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance.”

Though there is no maximum bail for felonies, the maximum bail for non-felonies is four times the maximum fine ($12,000 for a Gross Misdemeanor; $3,000 for a Misdemeanor).  The defendant has the right to unconditional bail.

Most judges will set two bail amounts, one with and one without conditions (sometimes zero with conditions).  If a judge does not set an unconditional bail amount, the defense attorney should immediately request that the judge do so.

The defendant will need to choose one of the two options, and will not be able to change his or her mind later unless a judge allows that.  It is possible for a person in jail presented to a judge to request that the court postpone consideration of pretrial release issues.  Sometimes this is a good idea, but we can leave this as a point for discussion with the defense attorney beforehand.

10.  Remedies

What if these rights are violated by the jail, the police, the prosecution, or the court?  What remedies are available?

One type of remedy is designed to force a hearing or immediate release if an immediate hearing is denied.  A Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, a type of equitable remedy, asks a judge to Order immediate release of a person being illegally detained.

Another approach is for the defense attorney to contact court officials to request and demand that a prompt hearing be scheduled.

If the police get a confession from an illegally detained person, the defense lawyer can ask the Judge to suppress the confession as illegal, coerced and unreliable.

In cases where bail has been set but the amount is beyond the reach of the defendant, Thomas Gallagher has made multiple motions for a speedy trial, or immediate release pending trial in the alternative, with some success.

For more information about pretrial release and bail 

Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer

Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer

Do you have more questions about how to get your loved one out of jail?

Or do you need to find a good criminal defense lawyer for him or her?

You can call Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer Thomas Gallagher to discuss.  He can help you.

How to Avoid a Marijuana Arrest in a Car in Minnesota: Top Nine Tips

The other day I was talking to a prosecutor.  I let him know that my objective was to keep my client’s public record clean of words like “marijuana,” “drug paraphernalia,” and “criminal conviction.”  He responded mischievously with “You know how he could avoid all that don’t you?  Don’t get caught.”  He was joking, but like many jokes there was some truth in it.

“I’m late, for a very important date.”

“Officer, am I being detained? I’m late, for a very important date.”

As of this writing, ten states in the U.S.A. have legalized marijuana for responsible use by adults 21 years and older.  And, most of the U.S. population now lives in a state with legal medical marijuana.  We should all know by now that marijuana is safer than alcohol.  There is no lethal overdose possible with marijuana, unlike alcohol, aspirin, and many prescription drugs.

But in Minnesota in 2019 despite a majority in the polls favoring legalization, criminal Prohibition lingers on, destroying innocent lives.  We should re-legalize in Minnesota.  And here is What Marijuana Legalization Should Look like in Minnesota.  In the meantime, watch your six!

What can you do to reduce the chance of getting caught? Here are nine tips:

 1. Situational awareness

Guess where the vast majority of police contacts with people happen?  Correct – in or near a motor vehicle.  As a result, the most effective way to avoid a marijuana criminal charge is to avoid having marijuana in your vehicle.

Complacency can set in.  If it hasn’t happened yet, it never will.  Right?

The smart attitude is that if a scenario is unlikely, with repetition (miles traveled in the car), it will inevitably happen.

There will be a traffic stop.  When it does happen; marijuana should not be in the car.

Minnesota:  If the prudent marijuana smoker does carry marijuana in the car only when absolutely necessary, he or she keeps it under the “small amount” 42.5 grams if plant form (not concentrates), but always in the trunk of the car (to avoid a “marijuana in a motor vehicle” charge).

Beware: a “small amount” of marijuana concentrates such as THC oil, dabs, marijuana wax, is always a crime under a loophole in Minnesota’s decrim law.  And over 1/4 gram of the resinous form of marijuana is a felony in Minnesota under that technicality.

2.  Odor

The most common excuse used by police officers as probable cause to search a car after a traffic stop is “odor of marijuana” – either fresh or burned.  This is prone to abuse by police officers since it’s impossible to verify.

Even so, to prevent getting caught with marijuana in your car avoid having the odor of marijuana either on your person or in your car.

And, if you do have the odor of marijuana on your person or in your car, be sure not to have any actual marijuana in your car.

Have you or anyone you know experienced “nose blindness?”  A person who has smoked a cigarette may not be able to smell the odor of past cigarette use on another person.  The same for a person who has been drinking an alcoholic beverage – can’t smell the odor of alcohol on another person.  But non-users can smell it.

It’s best to assume that if you’ve been smoking it that day, there may be odor.  If it’s been smoked in the car, the odor is probably lingering in the car for a day or more.  (Tip: don’t ever smoke in the car.)

3.  Consent? 

“No, officer, I do not consent to a search.” Like Paul Simon’s song “50 ways to leave your lover,” there are at least fifty ways to tell a police officer that you do not consent to any searches.

Make an excuse if you like: “I’m late, for a very important date.”  But no excuse is necessary.  You should not offer any justification for refusing a search.

Be confident and politely insistent. It’s your legal right to be secure from searches and seizures by police unless they have a search warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement.

The rape metaphor:  One of those exceptions is a consent search.  Police often ask people “do you mind if I search”?  The correct answer is, “I do not want to be searched.”

If you do consent to a search, you’ve waived your right to object later to the otherwise unlawful nature of the search.  Also, if police know they have no legal basis to search without “consent,” then they may leave without searching.

4.  You can do both

Don’t lie and don’t admit. How?

Remain silent.  Or if words do come out of your mouth make sure that they are not lies, and do not relate to illegality.

More than half the people stopped by police in traffic, when questioned about “marijuana in the car?” after the police officer claims “odor” will either lie or admit having marijuana in the car, often then telling the police where it is.  Wrong answer!

Instead, remain silent – meaning words are not produced by you.  Tightening your lips may help your resolve.  If you do say something, change the subject and avoid talking about whether there is marijuana in the car or not.  And again, do not consent to a search.

Police will try to make you think: “Busted.  The jig is up. May as well come clean now.  Give up.  You cannot win at this point.”  But don’t believe that for a minute!  You need to be prepared.  Knowing the law can help keep your confidence level up, and help you avoid or minimize legal trouble.

5.  Unlawfully prolonged detention

“Am I free to leave?”  Here is the scenario.  You’re stopped by police for a headlight out, or speeding.  Normally it takes five or ten minutes for a police officer to complete the process, hand you the ticket, encourage you to pay it without taking it to court, and walk away.  You understand that to mean that the government intrusion upon your liberty is now over and you are “free to leave.”

Now, let’s change the scenario.  You’ve been stopped for something normally resolved with a traffic ticket within five minutes, but this time the officer is prolonging the detention.  Is that legal?

The courts will apply a balancing test under the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether they think the greater intrusion upon your Liberty interest was balanced by a greater level of reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

But one of the factors courts will consider is: “to what extent did the person acquiesce to the detention vs. communicate a desire to end it and leave?

A common game played by police in court is to claim that “at that point, the person was free to leave and the prolonged time was consensual.”  If believed, then the prolonged detention might need less justification, fewer facts supporting a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Since “Fleeing a police officer” is a crime in Minnesota – whether in a motor vehicle or on foot – whether a person is begin “detained” by police or not, ought to be a simple black and white question.  Either you are “free to leave” or not.

The best way to make a record of that is to ask: Officer am I free to go now?  And don’t just do it once.  Do it more than once.  Say it loud and clear, for the camera and microphones.  It doesn’t matter what the answer is.  If you ask the question, you’re winning.

This will help your lawyer challenge the legality of the prolonged detention, search and arrest later, should it come to that.

At times it can be a good idea to just start slowly walking away, to force the police officer to tell you to stop.  (Yes, you can walk away from a car stop even if you’re not the passenger.)

6.  “You have the right to remain silent.”

When you hear that, that is your cue to – what?    It’s your cue to stop forming words and allowing them to escape your mouth!

If you want to say anything, you can say:  “Officer, I realize you are doing your job but I am not a lawyer or a police officer.  I need to assert my legal right to remain silent, and to consult legal counsel before answering questions or talking about this situation at all.”  Repeat as necessary.

No matter what they do or say, they cannot require you to speak.  So don’t.  If police direct you to show your hands, lie down, hands behind your back, stand over there, and the like, follow their commands.  But do not speak.

7.  Field Exercises

Sometimes police want to build a case for impaired driving.  When they do, they will ask you to perform what they optimistically term “Field Sobriety Tests.”  These are not scientifically valid and are designed to incriminate.  Even completely sober people have a difficult time “passing” them.  If you do them, you will fail.  If you don’t, you won’t.

What to do?  Don’t! 

Police cannot legally require anyone to do these field exercises, such as the “Nine-step walk and turn,” “One leg stand,” “Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus” eye test.  You can and should refuse to do any of these.

When you do, the police officer may invite an excuse.  But don’t take that bait!

Any excuse could be incriminating.  Instead you can say: Officer, I am aware of my legal rights and I respectfully choose not to do any field exercises or tests.”  You may get asked repeatedly.  If so, just keep repeating that you choose not to do them – no excuses.  (Who cares if you have one leg! That’s beside the point.)  It’s your legal right.

Important:  (Note that if the police officer has factual reason to suspect impaired driving and requests that you blow into a Preliminary Breath Test (PBT) machine and you refuse to blow, you can be arrested in Minnesota for that refusal.)

8.  Smile, you’re being recorded

From the beginning of a traffic stop, to sitting in a squad car, to the police station or jail, it’s best to assume that you and all you say are being recorded.

This recording may later hurt you, or help you.  Even when alone or with another person in the back of a police car, this is normally recorded – even when no police officer is in the car.

Phone calls from jail are recorded for later use as evidence.  Be aware of this.  Avoid talking about the case in any of these contexts.

9.  Keep your cool

if arrested. Hitting the panic button will only make it worse.  Police may try to exploit your trauma and emotional upset.  Remain calm, cool, collected.

The long game can be won, by playing defense in the short game.  You or someone on the outside can help you contact a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer and if need be, a bail bond agent.  Most people will be able to get out within a few days or less.

Liberty-Lawyer.com logo sm wideThomas C. Gallagher is a Minneapolis marijuana lawyer frequently representing people charged with possession of marijuana and related “crimes” in Minnesota.

Have a comment?  You are welcome to leave your comments and responses below.

Countermeasures at a DWI Stop: the Party Question

Is it a crime to drink and drive? Of course it is not.  But there are people out there – like MADD people – who appear hellbent upon changing the laws to bring back the Alcohol Prohibition, one step at a time.

It used to be “drunk driving” was a crime. Then in the 1970s the criminal laws were expanded to include “per se impaired driving laws.”   Per se roughly translates from the Latin to “the thing itself” or “by itself.”

A per se drunk driving law is a law that makes driving with an arbitrary alcohol-level a crime – even if the driver is not drunk, not impaired at all. That’s why you don’t hear the term “drunk driving” much anymore.  But why should it be a crime to drive when driving skills are not impaired?

Ok.  So the laws are unfair, and morally bankrupt – punishing the innocent and their families for no good purpose.  Fine.  There it is.  So how can you protect yourself and your family from this potential injustice?

What can a person do during a DWI stop to protect their rights?

This is mostly a question that criminal defense lawyers hear at a party.  Why?  Because almost all people stopped and later charged with DWI didn’t do any of these things.  But it can make for great conversation at a party.  There are a few different approaches and answers to the question.  So let’s narrow our hypothetical, and provide one.

Since most people stopped for a possible DWI have an alcohol concentration of less than 0.15, have no priors, and have not exhibited impaired driving conduct – let’s start with all of those assumptions, as well as assuming Minnesota laws.  Given the low speed limits these days and the most drivers travel faster than the speed limit most of the time, let’s assume a police officer stops the driver for speeding late one Friday or Saturday.   The police squad car take-down lights are visible in the rear-view mirror.  Now what?

The Police Officer Approaches the Vehicle

Police are trained to observe all of your actions and note any that could be interpreted as supportive of suspicion of impairment (and ignore the rest).  At this phase these include:

  • odor of alcohol
  • eyes – “bloodshot, watery”
  • couldn’t find or fumbled with driver’s license and insurance card
  • admitted drinking, coming from a bar, a party

What are some potentially effective countermeasures, then? If the window is not open, or open about an inch or so – that is plenty to pass the drivers license and insurance card through, but not enough to expose the odor of alcohol.  You can refuse to lower the window to force the officer to make a command to do so, making it difficult for them to argue you did so voluntarily.  When speaking to the police officer through the almost closed window, the driver can avoid eye contact.  This prevents the officer from being able to observe the cliché “bloodshot watery eyes” they imagine come only with drinking.

It’s a good idea to have the drivers license and insurance card in hand immediately after stopping, well before the police officer walks up to the vehicle to request those.  They are in your hands already, which are in plain sight on the steering wheel.

If asked “have you been drinking tonight?” you are not required to answer or answer responsively.  It is a bad idea to lie, for many reasons, so don’t.  It is also a bad idea to admit facts the officer can use to build “probable cause” to ask you out of the car, or for arrest later.

If you were stopped for speeding, the police officer should just write you a speeding ticket and send you on your way – unless you give him or her probable cause or reasonable suspicion to justify asking you out of your vehicle.

Police ask you to step out of the car.  Now what?

If you use the car or car door for support when getting out or walking, they will note that as suspicious.  So don’t.  They will ask you to walk behind your car, in front of theirs.  Their squad car lights will be on full brightness.  They will ask you to perform field exercises they like to call “Field Sobriety Tests.”  These are not scientifically valid, though the government claims otherwise.  Sober, trained police officers “fail” these “tests.”  How will you “pass” them?  And who is your judge?  The police officer!  What to do then?

Do not perform field exercises when asked to do so.  Do not do “Field Sobriety Tests!”  Common ones include:

  • Nine step walk and turn
  • One leg stand
  • Recite the alphabet, backwards etc.
  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (follow the pen or finger with eyes only, without moving head)
  • Walk a straight line

You cannot be required by law to do any of these. It would be a foolish mistake to willingly do any of them.   “Why won’t you do them?”  “A lawyer told me that I don’t need to, and shouldn’t.”

“Preliminary Breath Test” (PBT)

Minnesota statutes authorize police officers to require a driver to blow into a PBT machine – a portable breath-alcohol machine only under certain conditions where there is a basis to suspect DWI or selected other alcohol-related offenses.  Don’t worry about whether those preconditions exist at this point.  Your lawyer can do that later if need be.

What is important is that a PBT machine report of 0.08 or more can provide probable cause to arrest for DWI, and so can “refusal” to perform a PBT. Refusing a PBT is not a crime.  That would only provide probable cause to arrest.

One can imagine a logical person, knowing that, deciding to refuse the PBT if they felt sure they would end up with a PBT report of well over .08, for example .16 or more.  That person might feel they would have nothing to lose by refusing – since they would be arrested either way.  Compare that to a person who believed they would get a PBT report of less than 0.08.  That person would be foolish to refuse it, since it could result in their not being arrested.

Keep in mind that the little PBT machine on the side of the road, is not the same as the big, evidentiary breath-alcohol machine at the police station.  If a person is arrested for DWI, they can be asked to submit a sample for alcohol testing again, even though they already submitted to a PBT.  The PBT report is not admissible in a criminal DWI trial because they are deemed too unreliable and inaccurate for that purpose by the legislature.

If arrested, then what?

Every step further in the chain of events described above brings the driver closer to arrest (unless the PBT is less than 0.08).   If the PBT reads too high, that and the rest will be followed typically with handcuffs and the back of the squad car.  Then normally the arresting officer will wait for back up or a tow truck, and leave for the police station once either arrives.  Talking is not a good idea at any point, including while in the squad car.

At or near the police station (or hospital for a blood draw), the police normally read “the Minnesota Implied Consent Advisory” which informs the driver of certain legal rights.

The most important is your right to consult a lawyer before deciding whether to submit to chemical testing.

It is always, always, always – a good idea to call a lawyer first!  The police are required by law to help you do so.  If they fail to help you call a lawyer, the chemical test could be suppressed from evidence.  You should always make every effort to call a lawyer in this situation – even if you are still sitting in the squad car in handcuffs!  Tell the officer you want to call a lawyer.   This part is usually recorded – a good thing.

The other important right is secret in the sense that it is never mentioned in the “Implied Consent Advisory” by the cop.  what is it?  It is your Constitutional right to exculpatory evidence, as manifested in your statutory right to an “Additional Test.”  Say what?  You have the legal right in Minnesota to a Second Test, after the you provide the sample requested by police. In this situation, the arrested person should always, always, always request an Additional Test.  If you do, the police are only required to give you a phone to use.  You can use the phone to call whoever you need to call to arrange for an additional test.  See the midnight DWI jail call to a Minnesota lawyer blog post for more on this issue.

Stay safe out there.

By: Thomas C Gallagher, Minneapolis DWI Defense Lawyer.

How to Know > Do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Do I need a Minnesota Criminal Lawyer?

Do I need a Minnesota Criminal Lawyer?

Do You Need a Lawyer?

When it comes to criminal law, most people have been fortunate never to have ask themselves that question.  We do not expect the unexpected.  How do you know when, “I need a lawyer!”

Value of Keeping Your Public Criminal Records Clean

With no public criminal record, your potential future employers won’t be scared off by a criminal conviction.  You could be disqualified from certain occupational licenses  in the event you were convicted of a crime.   Certain convictions can also result in: loss of civil rights, such as voting and firearms rights; removal and deportation from the U.S.; denial of naturalization; loss of student financial aid; loss of housing; offender registration, and other negative consequences.

For many, the largest, quantifiable impact will be to future income stream.   How can a criminal conviction affect your future income?  If you assume a person is age 30 and will work until 70, that is 40 years. Multiply 40 years times a conservative $20,000 estimated reduction in annual income as the result of a conviction.  That would amount to $800,000.  At eight percent interest per year, that would be over one million dollars in lost income by age 70. I have had clients suffer a $45,000 per year reduction in income while an expungement proceeding was pending in court, so the real number could be in the millions, depending upon career path.

Is Jail or Prison Time Probable if Convicted? 

If you are charged with a serious criminal offense, there may be a threat of jail or even prison time.  Even for minor crimes, jail can be a real threat, when a person has prior convictions.  The maximum possible incarceration term specified in the criminal statute charged is rarely executed.  In felony cases, the Minnesota or Federal Sentencing Guidelines will provide a “presumptive sentence” after based upon the severity level of the offense of conviction and criminal history score.  Though there can be upward or downward departures from the presumptive sentence, it is useful to look at the presumptive sentence. There are also “mandatory minimum” sentencing statutes in Minnesota and United States Statutes which can be cruel, severe, and lengthier than the presumptive guidelines sentence.  It is vital to consult a criminal defense lawyer to discuss these factors. In non-felony, misdemeanor cases, up to one year in jail can be possible in Minnesota cases.

If It Is Important to You, Then It’s Worth Getting the Best Lawyer You Can to Help

For many reasons, it is valuable to prevent a criminal charge, to prevent a criminal conviction, and to prevent a criminal sentence in Minnesota.  The rule is simple.  If it is important, then it is important to have a good lawyer’s help in protecting it.  You and your family are worth a lot.  A good criminal lawyer can help protect your future, and your future income earning potential.  Protect your good name while you can – before it’s too late, before a guilty plea.  (Keep in mind that in order to qualify for a Minnesota expungement someday under Minnesota’s expungement statute, you’ll need to plan ahead in order to do so, with the help of a good criminal defense lawyer while the charge is still pending.)

This article was written by Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer  Thomas Gallagher.  Gallagher answers questions about Minnesota law court cases and issues every day, free, over the phone.  He also provides free half-hour office consultations by appointment.  You can give Gallagher a call with your question or to make an appointment at 612 333-1500.

Avoiding Traffic Stops – Minnesota Laws 2009

Another year, another truckload of new laws – the usual, right?  How does that affect you?  For the most part, hopefully it doesn’t.

But when you consider the fact that most criminal law problems – large and small – start as vehicle traffic stops; it pays to be aware of new laws allowing police to stop you.  Some of these went into effect June, July and some August 1, 2009.  All represent an expansion of government power and a reduction of your liberty and freedom.

 Do you remember several years ago when advocates of another law to mandate seat-belt use upon penalty of a petty misdemeanor fine, reassured us “don’t worry, we will never ask for a primary seat belt law;”  How long is “never,” again?  Not that long, it seems.

It starts with a traffic stop...

It starts with a traffic stop…

Police now can stop you for merely not wearing a Seat-belt in Minnesota.  A “primary violation” seat belt law gives police the legal right to stop a vehicle if someone in the vehicle appears to not wear a seat belt.  The previous version of the seat belt law did not allow traffic stops solely for the appearance of not wearing a seat belt.  This year’s law does.  The law eliminates personal choice, and personal responsibility.  It hands over more responsibility and more power to the government, taking it away from the individual.  It reduces the need for people to educate themselves, be responsible for themselves, and develop a personal moral code.  It reduces your freedom.  As usual, they claim sacrificing your freedom is worth it – for your own good.

The new “primary” seat belt violation law increases the potential for stops and arrests resulting from racial profiling.  Racial profiling is a real problem – difficult to solve.  Though police generally don’t view themselves as racist (few people do), they are no different from the rest of us, and are no more perfect in relation to racial stereotyping and its effects.  We know that when it comes to race, there is a disparate impact upon people identifiable as part of a racial minority group that can only be explained by race.  Creating more opportunities for police to stop people for petty, technical violations inevitably leads a worsening of the racial profiling problem.

Social control by force – by law enforcement – is corrosive to our culture and our youth.  Why learn responsibility as an individual if the government allows you little of it, and controls ever smaller aspects of your life – year after year, law after law?  This seat belt law gives law enforcement yet another reason to pull someone over, and to find another, bigger reason to interfere with your life.

Expansion of Child Seat law.

Under the new law, children in a motor vehicle must now be in a child passenger restraint system until their eighth birthday or they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall.  Of course, this is yet another reason for police to stop you if it appears you might be in violation of this.

Global Positioning Systems on Windshield .

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can now lawfully be mounted or located near the bottom-most part of a vehicle’s windshield.  Previously, anything mounted on the front or rear windshield put the driver at risk of a traffic stop by police.  The “obstructed windshield” statute, used by police to justify such traffic stops, does have some language about obstruction to the drivers view – yet, it gave police the legal excuse to stop someone if there was anything on the windshield, or between the windshield and the driver.  These have included RADAR detectors (otherwise legal), notepads stuck to the windshield, air fresheners or other items hanging from the rearview mirror, and the like – in addition to GPS units mounted to the windshield.  At least now there is an exception for GPS units mounted to the lowest portion of the windshield.  Presumably in that location, the driver’s view will not be impeded.

What about a RADAR detector?  Prudence might argue for a newer RADAR detector with a GPS unit incorporated in the same unit.  That – or don’t mount it to the windshield.  (See, Speeding Laws in Minnesota for a discussion of MN speed law and defense.)

Tips for Avoiding Traffic Stops.

Other than changing your race, age, car, etc., how can you minimize your risk of a traffic stop?  Of course, obeying the traffic laws seems obvious.  But what about all of the technicalities the police can use to either ruin your day, or ruin your life?  Here’s a list of a few:

  1. Avoid placing any decals of any kind on your front or rear windshield, even where instructed to do so by a government agency.  Instead, place them on a side window, where necessary.
  2. Make sure there are no cracks in your windshields.  In winter, make sure they are free of ice and snow.
  3. Avoid hanging items from your rear view mirror, like air fresheners.  Place them below the windshield level.  Avoid hanging anything from sun visors.
  4. Make sure all of your lights, brake lights, turn and lane change indicator lights, as well as license plate illumination light – are all working.
  5. Make sure your vehicle is displaying proper license plate or other registration evidence.
  6. Make sure your vehicle’s suspension, alignment and steering are good enough that your vehicle does not weave.
  7. Avoid tinted glass police may view as illegal.  (And work on changing this law.)

Given the plethora of overreaching laws already in existence, it has never been more important to prevent police from violating your privacy and liberty interests.  Traffic stops are the narrow end of the wedge the government can drive into you and your life, to hurt or destroy you.  Every police contact creates a risk of a life-altering criminal charge – innocent or not.  Every smart citizen should strive to avoid these police contacts in the first place.

For further information: Author, Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer.