Michael Bennet Arrest

A Superstar Detained

By now, we’ve all seen video of Seattle Seahawks star, Michael Bennett, running from a shooter at a Las Vegas casino. Opinions generally fall into one of two camps. The first is that Bennett shouldn’t have run from police, and the other is that when someone might be shooting at you, instinct takes over and you run.

On August 27, 2017, a gunman opened fire at a Vegas nightclub. Michael Bennett heard the gunshots and immediately ran out of the club for his own safety.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officers arrested Bennett as he ran for cover during the shooting. The officer drew his weapon, pointed it at Bennett and ordered the NFL player to the ground. Another officer pinned Bennet to the ground with his knee while forcefully handcuffing him.

Bennett remained calm, which is remarkable considering the situation. He referred to the officer as “sir” and continued to ask the officer what he had done and why he was being detained. There were hundreds of people running from the club and fleeing the scene, but it appears that the muscular, black athlete was the only individual detained by officers.

What Reasonable Suspicion?

According to reports, the police did not have a description of the shooter at the time, so it appears Bennett was detained for no other reason than being a large black man. Those on the other side point to officer training in identifying suspicious persons. It’s not yet clear why police targeted Bennet.

This incident raises many questions. Was the officer justified in his use of force? There was no description of the shooter, so why did officers detain Michael Bennett? Did officers arrest anyone else running from the club? 

Unfortunately, we may never get the proper answers to these questions. The officers who detained Bennett wore body cameras, which would have been helpful. Unfortunately, they apparently disabled their body cameras, so there is no video of the event.

Know Your Rights

You have rights if the police detain you:

  • You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, SAY SO OUT LOUD
  • You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of your person, vehicle, or your home
  • If you are not under arrest, you have the right to calmly leave
  • You have the right to a lawyer. Ask for an attorney as soon as possible, and do not speak to police without an attorney
  • Regardless of your immigration or citizenship status, you have constitutional rights

Here’s what to do when police stop you:

  • Stay calm and be polite
  • Do not interfere with or obstruct the police officer(s)
  • Do not lie or give false statements or documents
  • Remember the details of your encounter with the officer

If you’ve been detained or arrested, the experienced defense attorneys at Durflinger Oliver & Associates can help. Call today to schedule your free consultation, 253-683-4180. Ask about our military discount and convenient payment plans.

Reasonable Bail?

Reasonable Bail AmountProsecutors and Judges in Washington State may soon be setting reasonable bail amounts in criminal cases. The United States Justice Department recently admitted that holding defendants simply because they can’t afford bail is likely unconstitutional.

Criminal Rule 3.2 – Bail

Washington Criminal Rule 3.2 creates the general presumption that a criminal Defendant shall be released from custody without having to post bail. The court is to examine whether the accused is likely to commit more crimes, or intimidate witnesses, or otherwise interfere with the administration of justice. The court should release on personal recognizance defendants who are likely to follow the rules.

A judge may impose no bail, or a reasonable bail. The purpose of bail is to ensure that the defendant will appear in court. Bail is also supposed to protect the community. If the court can impose a significant bail if it determines that the accused is a danger to the community, or is a flight risk.

Unfortunately for many Pierce County criminal defendants, some judges have set bails that are so high that the accused cannot reasonably expect to be released. These cases include people who aren’t accused of violence, and aren’t at risk of skipping out on their court case.

The Constitution

The USDOJ brief stated that “Bail practices that incarcerate indigent individuals before trial solely because of their inability to pay for their release violate the Fourteenth Amendment.” The Constitution guarantees equal protection and when similarly situated people have bail set with no regard to ability to bail out, then some people are being treated differently.

The USDOJ brief was filed in the case of Maurice Walker of Calhoun, Georgia. Mr. Walker was arrested for being drunk in public. His bail was set at $160, which Walker was unable to post. As a result, he was held in jail for six nights following his drunken walk. There is no indication that Mr. Walker was a risk to the public, or a flight risk unlikely to return for court. As he could not afford to bail out, it seems clear that his bail was too high for this situation.

USDOJ lawyers argued that “Fixed bail schedules that allow for the pretrial release of only those who can pay, without accounting for the ability to pay,” the government said, “unlawfully discriminate based on indigence.” The Federal judge hearing the case agreed ordered to the city create a fairer system for defendants in minor criminal cases. The city appealed.

The city expressed concerns that without requiring bond, many people would have no incentive to return. It’s troubling that the city thinks it better to keep people jailed in petty offenses for which they have not been convicted, than to set a reasonable bail amount and run the risk that a small percentage of people might miss a future court date.

The city, not surprisingly, was joined by law enforcement and a group representing bail bondsmen. They advocated that indigence should not be considered in setting reasonable bail.

An Old Man and His Truck

Our firm recently represented a nice old man who was frustrated with a police officer. The officer accused the old man of not having a valid license. The old man was sure – and correct – that his license was fine. The officer didn’t like our client’s “bad” attitude.

The cop threatened to arrest the old man and tow his car. The old man pleaded that he wouldn’t be able to retrieve his vehicle and wouldn’t be able to bail out. The cop laughed – it was videotaped – and told the old man, “too bad”. The judge did not order a reasonable bail amount, and the old man sat in jail.

As it turned out, his license was good. The charges were eventually dropped but as a result of the arrest, he lost his job as well as his truck. He simply couldn’t afford the towing fees and impound charges once he was released.

Excessive bail can break up families, costs the accused his or her job, and it creates a host of other social issues. It’s nice to see the government finally accepting how destructive some of its policies can be.

For more info see the ABA article here.

If you or a loved one is at risk of losing liberty, call the attorneys at Durflinger Oliver for a free consultation, (253)683-4180.

Traffic Ticket Lawyer

Illegal Arrests Now Okay?

Illegal arrest

The U.S. Supreme Court is gradually eroding your 4th Amendment rights. Recent opinions give police broader powers to arrest citizens even if they are not breaking the law. Washington State has stronger protections against illegal search and seizure but, Prosecutors will be excited by recent SCOTUS cases.

Want more info? Read the this excellent article by law professor Erwin Chermerinsky as published in this month’s ABA Journal. 

Charged with Possession?

The attorneys at Durflinger Oliver & Associates help those who have been charged with possession of a controlled substance or other contraband. Call (253)683-4180 today to schedule your free consultation.

Civil Forfeiture Update – Sort Of

Police Abuse

You owe us that money, say cops.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s January 16th order modifying the DOJ’s civil asset forfeiture policy is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough. Civil asset forfeiture laws empower law enforcement agencies to seize property that is “associated” with criminal activity without having to charge the owner with a crime. Although there are many problems with this law, Holder’s order only deals with the issue of adoption. It does not eliminate the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, which lets police dodge state limits on forfeiture. Any civil forfeiture attorney will tell you that this is a problem.

Part of the confusion lies in the different terms the federal government uses to describe the different ways it works with state and local police agencies to seize assets. “Equitable sharing” is the broad term the government uses any time the feds and local police use federal forfeiture law to split up the assets seized in a joint investigation. “Adoption” cases are a subset of cases within the equitable sharing program. Adoption cases have minimal federal involvement. They are cases in which a local police agency simply calls up a field office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or other federal law enforcement agency to sign some papers so that the case gets kicked up to federal court, where it will be governed by the less restrictive federal forfeiture laws.

Federal agencies will no longer be able to accept or “adopt” assets seized by local and state law enforcement agencies. Adoption from now on will be limited to property that directly relates to public safety concerns, including firearms, ammunition, explosives, and property associated with child pornography; it notably does not include drug cases, which account for a large share of forfeitures. That is good news, since it means cops cannot seize cash or other property based on vague, unsubstantiated suspicions that it is somehow related to drug activity and then use adoption to keep up to 80% of the loot. But cops still can do essentially the same thing if the seizure results from an investigation assisted by or coordinated with “federal authorities.” That’s a big loophole.

Money For Nuthin

seizure and forfeiture

What are you gonna do if I take your stuff?

What if cops could call you a drug dealer and take all the money you have in your pockets? To make things worse, what if you then had to prove that you’re not a drug dealer in order to get your money back? Sounds like theft, doesn’t it?! Unfortunately, cops “steal” money like this from innocent people every day using a process called “Civil Forfeiture”, or seizure and forfeiture.

Civil forfeiture is legal process where police take money and property – cash, cars, houses, etc. – from persons “suspected” of illegal activity even if those people are never charged with a crime. To get their possession back, the owner must prove that the stuff seized was not involved in any criminal activity. Because these cases are civil actions, property owners receive few if any of the protections that criminal defendants enjoy.

Civil forfeiture can be a powerful tool used against drug dealers, and other criminals. Unfortunately, there are serious temptations for cops. Most, if not all the property that is taken by the cops, stays with those police agencies. This gives agencies a direct financial incentive to “police for profit” by seizing and forfeiting as much property as possible.

In August of 2013, the federal government used civil forfeiture to obtain a secret warrant to seize Carole Hinder’s entire bank account—totaling nearly $33,000—even though she did nothing illegal. For 38 years, Ms. Hinder has owned and operated a restaurant that only accepts cash. She regularly made frequent deposits of less than $10,000. Federal law requires banks to report cash deposits larger than $10,000; the government thought she was deliberately making small deposits to evade the reporting requirement.  She’s still guilty until proven innocent, and fighting to get her money back.

Things got worse after 9/11 when the government called on police to become the eyes and ears of homeland security on America’s highways. Local officers, county deputies and state troopers were encouraged to act more aggressively in searching for “suspicious” people, drugs and other contraband.

After stopping drivers for simple traffic infractions, law enforcement officers are asking drivers how much cash they have with them, and whether cops can search their cars, purses, pockets, etc. Too many drivers are afraid to say no.

Matt Lee was driving from Michigan to California to start a new job. He had $2,400 his dad had given him to get started. He was stopped in Nevada for a traffic infraction and asked how much money he had with him. Even though the officer performed a canine search of his car and found no drugs, he confiscated the money stating that it was to be used to purchase drugs. In Washington State, a 2001 Seattle Post Intelligencer article reported that one out of five people whose assets were seized, in one county in the state, were never charged with a crime.

Interestingly, there appears to be no limitations on how this seized money can be spent. The District Attorney’s Office in Worcester County, Massachusetts purchased a Zamboni while the Montgomery County, Texas District Attorney’s Office used the funds to purchase kegs of beer, crown royal and a margarita machine for an office party.

If your money or property has been seized, you can trust the experienced former prosecutors and experienced seizure attorneys at Durflinger Oliver & Associates to do everything possible to get your property back for you. Call today!

~ Martha McLaughlin, Sr. Associate