In 2017, there were approximately 84,000 arrests in Chicago alone. Out of those 84,000, less than 1.5 percent of those arrested had an attorney. That’s according to First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA) during a recent presentation at Comfort Station, 2579 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Started in 1995, FDLA saw a startling crisis of false confessions, particularly in Chicago, with
“The first 48 – 72 hours are crucial, and that’s when we try to get in,” said Daniel Massioglia, a volunteer attorney at FDLA. “Once we find out where our client is, which can prove difficult, our attorneys are there within a couple of hours.”
“While we all know our Miranda rights from TV and films, a lot of people don’t necessarily know how to invoke those in a high-stress situation,”
As a way to combat the alarmingly high number of false confessions, Massiolgia led the group who attended the event through a roleplay of how a fairly innocent interaction with a police officer can turn into months or years in prison.
Massiolgia then goes on to demonstrate how quickly things can go awry when Loki doesn’t exercise his rights.
“Let’s say Loki [an alias for the demonstration] is walking down 75th Street to the corner store to get a snack and something to drink. As he walks out, he finds a Ventra card on the ground and thinks, ‘Cool, maybe there’s a free ride on here.’ Innocent enough, right? Then a cop calls him over.”
“In scenario A, where Loki doesn’t know his rights, the cop asks him where he’s coming from, then asks if he has any guns or drugs. And this is a common question for cops because [seizing] guns is a priority for cops in Chicago.
“Loki admits that he has a joint on him, and the police officer searches his pocket.” At this point, Loki has not asserted his rights, and eventually the cop finds the Ventra card.
“Turns out there was an armed robbery about fifteen minutes earlier, and someone’s wallet was stolen. The cop ran the Ventra card and it matches the victim… At this point, Loki is under arrest not just for the marijuana, but for the armed robbery.”
While the imagined suspect knows he’s innocent, Massioglia explained that a lot of people end up taking the plea deal officers place in front of them. “Now Loki is facing six years in prison, and it profoundly changes his life,” he said.
According to Massioglia, there are certain rights that citizens can exercise during police interactions that can dramatically shift the course of a typical police interaction.
“The first is, ‘Am I free to go?’ This is your first set of ‘magic words’ when you’re stopped by the police. And if they say yes, simply walk away. If they say no or don’t give you a clear answer, assume you’re under arrest,” he explained.
While some might feel rude or suspicious for being so quick to get away from police, Massioglia said that this is something every citizen is free to exercise. “It’s your right under the Constitution, whether or not you’re here on a visa, undocumented, or under any other circumstance.”
If you’re not given the freedom to leave, this is when exercising your rights becomes even more critical. “This is when the magic words really start to go to work,” Massioglia said.
Fifth and Sixth Amendments: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney
“I will not talk, I want my lawyer,” is the magic phrase, according
The third and final “magic words” are “I do not consent to any searches.”
Police are only allowed to do fingertip pat downs on random street encounters, barred from reaching into or manipulating pockets. Had Loki invoked this right, any evidence the officers found (in this case the joint and Ventra card) would be inadmissible in court.
“Even if the police have a warrant, or if you suspect that the search is legal, you should still invoke this right because most people don’t know how much the warrant covers,” he said.
Despite FDLA’s good-natured work, its attorneys do sometimes receive pushback from local law enforcement.
“It totally depends on where you are in the city, but we do get resistance in different ways,”
“Sometimes we’ll have detectives go to our clients and say, ‘There’s an attorney here, do you want him? You know this will just keep you here longer’ or that it will cost our client lots of money, which aren’t true in either case,” he
Sometimes, the desk clerk won’t acknowledge that FDLA’s client is at the precinct in an attempt to hide them. Other ways include the ambiguous “processing” period where clients are being kept away from attorneys while police have an attempt to get in a round of questioning. A final way includes a little bit of intimidation and misleading on detectives’ parts.
Check out FDLA’s work on their website, or if you or someone you know is in direct need of legal assistance, you can call their 24/7 hotline at 1-800-LAW-REP-4.
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