by Scott Morgan
Private attorney Robert Amparan said at a news conference at Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s office that a judge had just thrown out his client’s felony marijuana possession for sale case because video evidence contradicted the officers’ testimony in court and statements on the police report.
Amparan said 23-year-old McLaren Wenzell did not consent to letting the officers inside his apartment at 33rd Avenue and Geary Boulevard on March 1. He said the officers did not immediately identify themselves as police and did not have a constitutional basis to search the apartment. This issue isn’t about drugs, it’s about your Constitutional Rights versus the current execution of statutes and policies.
In the course of my work to educate the public about how to properly exercise constitutional rights during police encounters, a reaction I hear frequently is, “What’s the point? They’re just going to search me anyway.” Well, as you can see in the story above, police can get busted for bad behavior, and when they do, the evidence is often declared inadmissible. Think about this: if the suspect had instead given consent for the search, there wouldn’t have been any question about the legality of the police entry, and he would have been convicted. The only reason things worked out for him is because he refused the search and relied on his constitutional rights for protection.
But the critical point here goes beyond what happened to this particular suspect in this particular case. Keep in mind that the legal significance of refusing a police search applies whether or not you’ve broken the law, and whether or not police break the law. If officers plant evidence, damage your property, or otherwise disrespect your home, it’s almost impossible to challenge their actions if you gave them permission to come inside. That’s how the law works, and the fact that police sometimes violate it gives you more reason to know and assert your rights, not less.