6 Completely Legal Ways The Cops Can Screw You
We are so lucky to be living in an era of law when it's no longer common for, say, suspects to be interrogated with live cobras tied to the ends of nightsticks. Unfortunately, there are still many colorful ways the police can royally screw you while Lady Justice shrugs.
For instance, you might be surprised to learn that right now in the U.S., it's actually legal for the cops to...
Steal Your Stuff
Imagine you had your car stolen, but then fortune smiles upon you and the cops find it after the thief used it to smuggle 200 pounds of cocaine across the border, running over 30 children in the process while sexually assaulting the car itself.
You realize you're going to need to get all of its fluids replaced from a mechanic with a soft voice and gentle hands, but you still want it back, because hey, it's your car, right?
Yeeeah, there's some bad news: It has been sold to buy a new espresso machine for the station's break room.
It's called civil asset forfeiture. You probably already have heard of something like this, where the police get to seize the car and house of some drug kingpin and stick the money in the department's budget (that's criminal forfeiture).
But then there's this loophole where the police can seize anything they suspect has been used in a crime, even if it doesn't belong to the criminal, and even if there hasn't been a conviction.
"Let's take the jet. Those bootlegged DVDs from China had to get here somehow."
Then if you, as the actual owner of the goods, try to challenge it, the burden of proof is on you to prove you didn't know it was going to be used in a crime. That's civil forfeiture.
For the police, there is no legal requirement to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that, say, your TV set was once used by a ring of Dutch pedophiles to view kiddie porn. They can simply take it, without ever giving it back, even if they never formally charge anyone for a crime.
You're Shitting Me!
In 2004, Zaher El-Ali, a Jordanian immigrant and U.S. citizen, sold a truck to a man who agreed to pay for it in installments. Before he could finish the payments though, the man was arrested for drunk driving and the truck was seized. Seeing as the car still legally belonged to Zaher (he still had the title), he demanded it back. The police refused, and possibly laughed.
Because civil forfeitures are so simple, over 40 percent of police executives admitted their budgets depend on cash from them. That means each year, those stations have a quota of forfeitures to fill and technically there is really no stopping them from filling it with YOUR Xbox.
Guess Your Car's Speed and Ticket You For It
Does this scenario sound familiar to you?
Cop: Sir, do you know how fast you were going?
You: Oh, couldn't have been more than 40, 42.
Cop: Sir, it was over 100. I have it on my radar.
You: I see.
Cop: Sir, where are your pants?
You: That's actually a very funny story, officer...
"All the drug money in the pockets was weighing me down."
Luckily, those days are in the past. Not the part about "spending the night in jail for driving bottomless around school zones," the radar thing. Police don't need them anymore because now they can just guess your speed and ticket you based on that.
That's as of June 2010, when the Ohio Supreme Court decided in a 5-1 ruling that a trained officer doesn't need any of those newfangled gizmos to determine if a car was speeding. In accordance with the ruling, the visual estimate of an experienced police officer is enough to convict anyone of speeding, without the need for pesky wastes of time like independent verification and evidence.
Some might argue that this grants too much power to the police, but really, what's the worst thing that could happen?
A horrible movie gets made.
You're Shitting Me!
Mark Jenney of Akron definitely wasn't the first person to ever get ticketed without a radar reading. But unlike other motorists, he refused to take it lying down and fought back, all the way to the state's Supreme Court.
Sure, in the end he lost and had to pay his ticket, involuntarily helping to legalize radar-less ticketing and probably losing a shit-heap of money in attorney fees but... wait, we forgot where we were going with this.
Was it, "Next time, just pay the damn ticket?"
Arrest You For Drinking in a Bar
Picture yourself on a typical Wednesday morning, hunched over a shot of whiskey ready to commit mass murder on your brain cells, the smug little bastards. After taking one sip, a bunch of cops burst in and tackle you to the ground. In your state of shock and confusion you apologize for drinking and beg them not to tell your parents. It takes several minutes before you realize that you are 26, live alone and that you were just arrested for tasting alcohol in a bar.
Yeah, they got me for assault.
That's the scenario in states with very broad Public Intoxication laws, like Texas. In 2006, Texas scored the highest number of drunk-driving fatalities in the country and, after determining that this was the rare problem that could not be blamed on immigrants or homosexuals, state officials decided to do something about it.
First, they fired a bunch of guns to clear their heads. Then they moved on.
Namely, they dusted off an old 1993 law and gang-interpreted it atop a pinball machine until it somehow became legal to arrest people for so much as being near a bottle of booze, anywhere. Including in a bar.
We're not exaggerating for the sake of comedy here. Not only have they decided a bar is part of the "public" that "public intoxication" forbids, but they don't even require a breathalyzer test to determine if a suspect really is drunk. They can make arrests based on nothing more than their hunches.
You're Shitting Me!
In June 2009, Fort Worth officers used the new public intoxications regulations to arrest a bunch of folks at local bars that, by the way, happened to be the area gay and Hispanic bars. Naturally, according to witness testimonies, none of the arrestees were actually drunk, though they were dangerously brownish/homosexual.
So that's what happened to Ricky Martin.
Damn, you mean the police are abusing a law that basically allows them to arrest anyone they please as long as there is some alcohol in their vicinity? In the South?
Arrest You For Filming Them
If you search for "asshole cop" on YouTube you will instantly get hundreds if not thousands of videos of some police officer tasing or otherwise abusing some kid or grandmother who may or may not deserve it. Police abuse videos surely are the fastest growing segment of online entertainment.
"In the face! IN THE FACE!"
Sadly, that entire genre might be on its way out. Currently, three states had made it illegal to film on-duty police officers, even (and especially) if they are beating up handicapped minorities in the middle of the town square.
"Memorizing is also a sort of recording. Stop remembering this!"
In Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland, they require both parties to consent to any recording for it to be legal. So, that cop whom you just filmed spouting profanities that reinvent the very idea of racism? Unless he always dreamt of being an Internet sensation, he can easily bust your ass and confiscate your camera.
"Why does he have so many pictures of his balls on here?"
There are 12 states in total that enforce an all-party-consent law, but only three interpret it to include public places of gathering with absolutely no expectation of privacy. So on one hand, that kind of sucks for people trying to record police misconduct, but on the other, hey, apparently security cameras are now illegal in parts of the Northeast! Looting party next week!
Yeeeah I am thinking NOT.
You're Shitting Me!
Earlier this year, a Chicago man by the name of Christopher Drew was arrested for peddling goods without a license - a misdemeanor only slightly more socially-damaging than stealing garbage. But because he videotaped the arrest, Drew is now being charged with illegal recording, a class I felony punishable with up to 15 years of sharing a prison-cell with a 300 pound mountain of perversity named Bubba.
He's not telling you about the fish he caught last year.
The case of Anthony Graber is even more disturbing. On March 5, Graber was pulled over for speeding and immediately had a gun pulled on him by an off-duty policeman. Luckily, his helmet had a built-in camera, so after 10 days, the video of this encounter hit YouTube.
This magically elevated Graber's speeding to an "egregious traffic violation" and had him arrested for breaking wiretapping laws... punishable by up to 16 years in prison. We're pretty sure you get less than that for having a flamethrower strapped to your helmet.
Book You For Carrying Condoms
Spotting a prostitute can prove to be one of the most important skills you will ever learn, especially when it comes to telling real hookers from undercover cops. And thus, we present you with this wonderful bit of information on proper Whore Identification: In Washington, D.C. women carrying more than two condoms on themselves are considered prostitutes and can be arrested as such.
No, no, she's cool. Said she never used a condom in her life. You think I should ask her out?
Or at least that's the case in D.C.'s designated Prostitution Free Zones. You can't be having prostitutes in your Prostitution Free Zones--that would defeat their very purpose--so is it really an overreaction of the D.C. police for arresting all women "congregating without a destination" in PFZs with at least three condoms in their purses? After all, those are the internationally recognized signs of people who takes stranger dick into their bodies for money.
She knits all her own condoms.
Come on, three entire condoms should be enough to last a typical person an entire lifetime of sexual activity. That's why they only sell them individually at ridiculously marked-up prices. Add such suspicious behavior as "hanging out" into the mix and you have all the ingredients for Prostitute Stew.
"Can I get a 'prostitute stew' with a 'handjob salad' please?"
You're Shitting Me!
The new practice has already caught the attention of various women rights groups around the country, and not just because innocent girls are possibly being thrown into holding cells with women that go by names like "Discount Debbie." The main worry here is all that delicious AIDS the real working girls are spreading like well, like working girls who suddenly found condoms to be a huge liability.
"Let this one go, she doesn't have any condoms on her."
Man, who could have predicted that with the new Rubber Standard most prostitutes wouldn't clean up their acts and go get MBAs or something, but rather start doing it without protection?
Steal Your Identity
For the last couple of years, Identity Theft has been the exalted Grand Poobah of the American Paranoia Club, and for good reasons. The thought that someone out there might go into a long, prosperous career in bestiality porn, using our name and credit to fund it, constantly keeps us up at night.
And we have to surf the bestiality sites to make sure our good name isn't sullied.
But you know what would be even scarier? If it was the police who took your identity and then created an entire new chapter in your life, one where they made you, like, a stripper from Ohio. Which is something the law actually permits them to do.
"Did I overdo it with the syphilis and incest rape? Probably not."
This used to be illegal no more than eight years ago, but it all changed when Ohio passed a new law aimed at combating, ironically, identity theft. The 2002 law allows law enforcement agencies to take anyone's personal information (driver's license number, Social Security Number, etc.) and give it to an agent to use while undercover.
That in itself wouldn't be so bad if the cops were using your identity to pose as somebody cool, like a mafia hitman or a T-Rex.
Or, in Bruce Wayne's case, the Batman.
Sadly, the reality is most often less professional assassins and more street walkers or nude dancers.
You're Shitting Me!
As far as we know, Haley Dawson has never taken her clothes off professionally. But for one month in 2003, a woman with the same name, address and SSN danced naked in front of a bunch of drunkards and Internet perverts at a strip-joint in Troy, Ohio. That woman was actually Michelle Szuhay, a criminal-justice student participating in an undercover police operation, using Dawson's identity as her cover.
Yeah, Dawson: D-A-W-S-
Naturally, the real Ms. Dawson wasn't informed that her good name was being tarnished and fantasized about by sweaty middle-aged guys for over 30 days. But it was all worth it, after local liquor-agents could charge the owner of the club with two misdemeanor charges of furnishing alcohol without a permit. The ends justify the means, people!
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance online journalist and Japanese-English-Polish translator. Contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org
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