Say you’re cruising down I-4, music blaring, perhaps moving a bit too fast, when you notice red and blue lights flagging you from behind. Problem: You’ve got a dime bag in your glove compartment, and you figure a trip to the Orange County jail is in your future.
Or maybe not. We spoke briefly with Roger Scott, an Orlando defense attorney who also teaches an annual NORML–sponsored “know your rights” seminar at the University of Central Florida to tell students how to minimize their risk of getting busted. He’s done the seminar for the last five or six years, he says, and draws as many as 200 students.
Orlando Weekly: Let’s start at the beginning. How can we avoid getting busted?
Roger Scott: Well, of course, as I’ve said the best way is not to commit a crime. Even that’s not 100 percent, but it is probably the most effective. Other ways are not to commit your crimes in public. I have a friend, a lawyer from Seattle, who always says, “Only commit one crime at a time.” If you are driving around with, say, marijuana, which is what these kids are mostly asking about, it’s not a good idea to be going 90 miles per hour while drinking a beer, for instance.
If the cops ask to search your car, what should you do?
Well, that’s one of the first things I explain to them: That if the police ask if they can, that probably means they need permission. If they don’t need permission, they tend to tell you what to do. You should always say no. One reason is you never really know. I’ve explained to people … `who` don’t smoke marijuana, so, you know, what would you worry about? `But` do you have children? Do they drive the car? … What about their friends? … About 20 to 25 years ago, somebody broke into my car, stole things out of it up in New York City and dropped their crack cocaine. Luckily, I found it and threw it away. But what if I hadn’t found it, and I’m driving around and get pulled over? Now there’s crack cocaine in the car. I don’t smoke crack cocaine, but that would’ve been hard to explain to a police officer.
Do we have to wait for drug dogs to show up and search our car? How long can the police detain someone?
The law says they can only hold you as long as it would’ve taken to write a ticket. If they hold you extra time for a dog, then that would be an illegal search. So keep track of time. Keep track of what’s going on so you can tell the story later. But, you know, comply with all the police’s commands, certainly.
What are some of the most common mistakes people make?
You’d be amazed at the people who are driving around with drugs who have an expired license, or their registration is expired, or – a very common one – the lights don’t work on their car. Like the light over your license plate tag, actually, if that doesn’t work, it’s a legal reason for them to pull you over. A lot of people just have something glaringly obviously wrong with their vehicles, but `are` driving around with something in the car that they shouldn’t have. I’ve always been amazed by that; you think that they’d be squeaky-clean in every other respect, but it’s often not the case.
If you’re pulled over with dope, does it do you any good to confess?
Many people confess to crimes when they couldn’t be caught anyway or they wouldn’t be convicted, where the confession is necessary. And the police will try to do that – try to get someone to confess if they can’t make their case otherwise. … In the legal sense, it’s generally not a good idea to confess or even consider it until you’ve spoken to a lawyer to know your total legal situation. … Even if you are determined and want to do it because it’s the right thing to do, just to make sure to end up with everything being treated fairly, it would be best to have a lawyer evaluate the firstname.lastname@example.org