News outlets frequently fail to comprehend legal issues. In most cases, news stations treat people who have been arrested for a crime like they would treat a convicted criminal.
In Arizona, a recent news story completely botched a report about police giving fake traffic tickets to people who were obeying traffic laws.
News Report Makes Numerous Mistakes About Pedestrian Safety Event
On July 29, 2019, Channel 12 News in Arizona released a report about a new police initiative to educate bikers and pedestrians about roadside safety.
The initiative involved uniformed police officers talking to bikers and walkers and “ticketing” them for doing everything correctly – like obeying traffic signals, crossing at crosswalks, and using hand signals while riding a bike. Those “tickets” were coupons for free drinks at a local convenience store.
The news report, however, completely mishandled the facts.
While the reporter began the story by talking about pedestrian safety, she quickly segued into talking about “drivers,” eventually telling viewers, “If you see a police officer pulling you over, it may not be a bad thing.”
Throughout the news story, a video played of police officers interacting with walkers and young bikers. But the reporter kept using driving-related phrases like “police lights in your rearview mirror.”
Why the News Story's Mistakes are a Big Deal
The difference between police giving these fake tickets to pedestrians or drivers is not a small one: It's illegal for police to pull drivers to the side of the road for “doing everything correctly.”
A traffic stop is a type of arrest. The Fourth Amendment forbids arrests – or “seizures” – that are “unreasonable.” One way for arrests to be unreasonable is for police to make them without probable cause.
By forcing police to have probable cause before making an arrest – including a traffic stop – the law keeps police from pulling drivers to the side of the road “just because” or for no reason, whatsoever.
If you watched the Channel 12 report, though, you would think that's exactly what police were doing. In fact, it would seem like police were conducting traffic stops precisely because no laws were being broken.
Such a traffic stop would be illegal because it violates your Fourth Amendment rights.
Reminder: Your Rights as a Pedestrian or Biker
Police still need to have probable cause that a crime is being committed to detain pedestrians or bikers. When a police officer approaches you on the sidewalk to give you a coupon for abiding by all the traffic laws, you do not need to interact with them: Without that probable cause, you are not being detained and are free to go about your daily business.
If you do decide to stay and interact with the officer in order to get a drink coupon, you need to be aware of the fact that police are literally getting paid to find evidence of a crime and that they use every interaction they can to find evidence that something is wrong. If you are not vigilant and careful about what you say, you could find yourself being labeled as a suspect.
Criminal Defense in Philadelphia With Joseph D. Lento
Police outreach programs like these are becoming more common as public trust in uniformed officers continues to erode. Criminal defense lawyer Joseph D. Lento advises Philadelphians to be careful when interacting with police at all times, including when they are just trying to give you a coupon. The costs of a free drink can be exorbitant.
Contact him online or call attorney Lento at his Philadelphia law office at (215) 535-5353 if you've been arrested and charged with a crime.