“Know Your Rights” event educates and empowers students to self-advocate

Students heard from an ACLU expert on how to interact with police safely and legally, whether at a party or at a traffic stop

Rachel Hicks

Students’ college years may be the first time many of them get into potential legal trouble, whether it be for underage intoxication, possession of illegal substances or traffic violations.

That’s why students gathered in Stackhouse Theater on Oct. 23 for a “Know Your Rights” lecture led by a local public policy associate.

Charlie Schmidt of Richmond works for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia and has more than 20 years of experience in lobbying, advocating and organizing communities. His visit was co-sponsored by W&L Career and Professional Development and the Delta and Pi Beta Phi sororities.

Schmidt offered many legal reminders and pieces of advice to students who find themselves interacting with police, which are summarized below.

  • “Unfortunately, courts have deemed that state officials don’t have to tell you your rights,” Schmidt said. “They don’t even have to tell you the truth a lot of times.”
  • Remember to ask police, “Am I free to go, or am I being detained?”
  • Police don’t need permission to approach you and start a conversation. Sometimes, the less you say, the better.
  • In conversations, police look to establish probable cause. Your inclination may be to answer some questions and then go. Don’t talk. The longer police talk to someone, the more information they gather toward probable cause.
  • You don’t have to take a breathalyzer if police ask you to do so. Police could still have probable cause to write you a ticket, but you don’t have to consent to breathalyzers or searches.
  • Remain calm if police yell or seem to escalate situations. It’s not illegal to film interactions with police. Police need a warrant to open or take anything from your phone.
  • If you are pulled over by a police officer while driving, you must present your driver’s license and registration, but you are never obligated to answer questions.
  • Keep in mind that your protections and your privacy are lowered when in a vehicle. Be mindful of who you’re driving with and what is physically inside the vehicle. For example, if alcohol is present and you are under 21, the alcohol is still considered your responsibility even if it does not belong to you. The same rule applies to places of residence.