99 Problems

Ok. So this is sort of a lazy post on my part, because I won’t be writing very much. A certain professor of law at St. Louis University School of Law has done all the work for me. I often find it difficult to convey the law to the non-law student. Every answer becomes “it depends” because it really does. But this professor manages to reduce the complex interplay of a certain area of law that touches most of us when we are travelling these mean streets on 4 wheels into a digestible form.

I’m not gonna hide the ball. We’re talking about the 4th Amendment here. You know, the one that protects you from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The one that brings us the term “probable cause.” It’s an Amendment that is supposed to protect us from the Government. To stop them from selectively invading our privacy. That’s what the Supreme Court has essentially said the foundation of it all is: Privacy. The right to be left the hell alone when not doing anything illegal. But in my experience most non-law-minded individuals don’t know just how much the police can, and cannot do, Constitutionally.

Before law school most of my knowledge of the law came from these guys.

Let me illustrate what I mean with a hypothetical scenario: You’re driving on the highway. You see the lights behind you. You are not a drug dealer or big-time pusher, but you have some marijuana in your car in the glove box. You just copped it from your connect, and planned on partaking to unwind from a long day’s work. The officer pulls you over, walks up to your window, does the perfunctory request for license and registration. Everything seems in order. He says you failed to signal. You know you did signal, but whatever. Then he asks you can he search the car. You know you have weed in there, so what do you do? Do you think if you say “no” that will only make him more suspicious? Do you think by looking “nervous” he’ll be alerted to your contraband? So many questions.

“But officer, I’m not even Black . . . you CAN’T give me a ticket.”

Friends I have spoken to about this scenario often say they often just consent. They think if they don’t, it will only make the officer more suspicious and he’ll search anyway. They think the police will just extend the encounter, thus increasing embarrassment and delay, and it’s just easier for everyone involved if you say “yes” and hope he doesn’t find anything.

I’ve got something every person of color should read, and certainly every Black man who may find himself in the position of having an illicit substance in his automobile.

What this article does is explain the complex area of Fourth Amendment Jurisprudence in the context of the all-too-common traffic stop. What is unique is that it does it in the context of a song we all know and love: Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.” You know, the second verse that begins “The year is ’94 and in my trunk is raw / in the rearview mirror is the motherfuckin’ law . . .” The narrative details Jigga’s encounter with the police and his ensuing dialogue. Before law school, I often thought what he said was all true. The parts about being profiled. The part about the cop needing a warrant to search the car. Well, this article shows that some of it is true, while other parts aren’t the current state of the law at all.

I commend this article to you all as an excellent and clear explanation of what the Police can and cannot do in the context of a traffic stop. I couldn’t have explained it better than this article does and the way it’s tied in with the song is brilliant.

Click here.

Please comment on the article below. Does it disfavor minorities? Does it accomplish the goal of balancing individual rights while allowing enough flexibility for the police to do their job? Just share your thoughts.

Know your rights, and continue to question the world around you.

3 Responses to “99 Problems”
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  1. […] it wasn’t until my colleague posted an intriguing post about the importance of knowing your Fourth Amendment right that I decided to pursue this PSA […]

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