Lawyers' Advice on What Marijuana Suspects Should Say to a Cop: Keep Your Mouth Tightly Zipped

A panel of marijuana criminal defense attorneys on the opening day of NORML's 39th Annual National Conference in Portland Thursday were unanimous and emphatic on one thing people with pot should do when confronted by police: exercise their right to remain silent.



"Don't talk to those people," warned Oakland defense attorney and NORML board member Bill Panzer. "Their job is to throw your ass in jail. They are not there to help you."


"Don't talk to the cops," agreed Seattle defense attorney Jeffrey Steinborn. "No matter what you say to a cop, they will write down what they want to hear. They can't misinterpret stone cold silence."


"Shut the fuck up," punctuated Seattle defense attorney Douglas Hiatt, noting that people were understandably under stress when having encounters with law enforcement. People are prone to try to talk their way out of trouble, he said. "This is not the time you're going to be doing quality thinking."


Less colorful variations on the theme also came from Columbia, Missouri, defense attorney and NORML board Dan Viets, Portland defense attorney John Lucey, and Florida defense attorney and NORML board member Norm Kent. All were members of the panel "Warning: Marijuana is Still Illegal for Non-Patients! Legal Defenses and Strategies for Cannabis Consumers," moderated by Kent.


Telling pot people they have—and should exercise—the right to remain silent isn't anything new. Groups from the ACLU to Flex Your Rights have long offered the same counsel, as will any defense attorney if you ask him. But with millions of marijuana consumers, legions of police ready to take them down, and 800,000 marijuana arrests a year, nearly 90% for small-time possession, this panel of pot friendly legal pros clearly felt it was a message worth reiterating.


The defense attorneys had plenty of other admonitions for pot smokers, growers, and dealers, all frankly designed to help them flout laws the lawyers consider immoral. The tough warnings were, however, leavened by outbursts of laughter as they shared stories of bumbling and hapless clients.


Like Norm Kent's tale of a home in Florida where police suspected a marijuana grow was going on, but lacked sufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant. They conducted a "knock and talk," where they simply knocked on the front door to see if the resident would let them in. Kent's advice: Don't talk to the police. In fact, you don't even have to acknowledge their presence.


That's not what happened. Instead a 17-year-old opened the door to the knocking police, was asked about marijuana being grown at the residence, and blurted out, "It's my dad's dope; not mine!"


Kent got a client he wouldn't otherwise have had because the kid didn't know how to respond properly (by not even answering the door, or not opening it). "You have the right to say no," he said. "Just say no."


"Don't even open the door," said Steinborn. "Make them break it down."


Steinborn, a white-haired veteran, said he had three rules: "Only break one law at a time," he said, especially when driving. "The second rule is leave the paraphernalia at home. Learn to roll a joint!" he exclaimed. "The third rule is to always be courteous, but ask them if you're free to go."


"Don't text message," groaned Panzer. "If you've got 'Dude, I loved the purp! Can I get 3 lbs?' on your phone, they will find it, even if you deleted it."


That proscription should apply to any use of electronic media for conducting marijuana business, the attorneys said. Pot leaves on your Facebook page could help police convince a judge their request for a search warrant had merit. Photos of you proudly displaying your garden would be even more incriminating.


"Anything on email or the Internet is out there," said Steinborn.


Hire them or attorneys like them for your own good, especially if you're growing or selling, they pleaded. And don't wait until after you've been arrested.


"If you're a pot grower or dealer and you don’t have a lawyer on retainer, you're nuts," said Lucey. "If you're going to engage in felonious conduct on a regular basis and you haven't spent $250 for a lawyer…" he trailed off.


Guns and marijuana don't mix, the defense attorneys warned, citing mandatory minimum federal and state sentencing enhancements that come into play if a gun is found in the home, even if it was not used or brandished. You can have your guns or you can have your grown, they said, but you shouldn't have both or you're exposing yourself to serious time.


The war on marijuana is ultimately a war on the people who grow, sell, and use it. This NORML panel was quite frank about being on the other side of the battle and was offering up some basic training Thursday afternoon.

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