“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
These wise words attributed to founder Benjamin Franklin are too often lost on many today who figure “Well, I’m not doing anything wrong, so why shouldn’t I just agree to let police do whatever they want?”
And I thought on Franklin’s words today, after I learned about this little program here in Philadelphia called S.A.V.E. — a too-cute acronym for Stolen Auto Verification Effort. Let me explain this program to you. No, better yet, I’ll let the police explain it to you:
All Districts in the city still do the S.A.V.E. (Stolen Auto Verification Effort) program….
The SAVE program is a decal you put on your automobile that basically states that you don’t normally drive your vehicle late at night (between 12am and 6am). By putting this decal on your vehicle you are stating that you would like that vehicle to be pulled over if it is seen operating during those hours to ensure that the vehicle isn’t stolen.
Yes, you’re reading that right. It is literally a sign to the police that says “Please pull me over”.The concept behind the program is “safety” — to more quickly identify your car if it’s been stolen while you’re in bed dreaming of unicorns and rainbows.
But are the rights you’re potentially giving up for “safety” really worth it? To really understand, I think we ought to quickly discuss your rights to be free from searches and seizures.
Please understand that this is a quick overview and there are thousands of cases out there that explain special circumstances, exceptions, and nuances. Nothing in this post is legal advice. This is free — you have to pay for legal advice.
Search and Seizure — What Does that Mean?
Paramount to our freedom from state intrusion into our lives are a few clauses of some documents you’ve probably heard of, and which often some up during suppression hearings when police break the law during their investigations:
U.S. Constitution, Amend. IV.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
and then this one too:
Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, Section 8. Security From Searches and Seizures.
The people shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers and possessions from unreasonable searches and seizures, and no warrant to search any place or seize any person or things shall issue without describing them as nearly as may be, nor without probable case, supported by oath or affirmation subscribed to by the affiant.
Now while these two protections have taken quite the beating (see, e.g., our very own hometown Stop and Frisk), they at least provide you some baseline protection from police intrusion into your lives.
What good does it do?
Lets consider a scenario: say you’re just walking down the street, minding your own business — when the police just roll up, throw you up against a wall, and search your pockets. Don’t worry, it’s not anything you did, they just didn’t like the color of your shirt.
Just say for the purposes of this scenario, you’re holding weed (or heroin, or percs — whatever your poison is that day), which the police find when they go through your pockets. You’re arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance, 35 P.S. §780-113(a)(16).
After an arraignment where your bail is set, you have to show up in Municipal Court with your lawyer.
In this case, the Court should toss out the evidence at a suppression hearing, because under the law in Pennsylvania, police are generally not allowed to randomly stop and search people. And when they do, in violation of the law, any materials the police find are considered “fruit of the poisonous tree” and are not admissible in Court.
To frisk you, the police need reasonable suspicion that you’re engaged in some criminal activity, and then may briefly stop, detain, and question you. If they suspect that you’re armed and dangerous, they may conduct a quick pat down to ensure you’re not armed (the famous Terry stop). Any restrictions on your freedom to move about freely — this means as soon as an officer has asserted himself and you feel you’re no longer free to leave — requires that the police have reasonable suspicion.
In our above scenario, the police didn’t have any so the evidence at issue (in our case, the drugs you were unwisely holding) gets suppressed. Without the drug evidence, the DA can’t prosecute you, so the prosecution gets withdrawn.
Does this mean that some people who do illegal things get away with it? Absolutely. But that’s the price of a free society.
Things work a little bit different when you’re in a car.
When you’re in a car, there are some different rules. Generally, all police need to pull you over is “reasonable suspicion” that you’ve violated the Motor Vehicle Code. And by the way, the motor vehicle code is really long, so the police have a lot of choices as to their reason for pulling you over.
Unfortunately, even that protection isn’t so great, as the United States Supreme Court has green-lighted the common police practice of “pretextual stops”. For example, a case where the police say they’re officially stopping a car “officially” due to a broken tail light, but actually because the officers think the drivers must be ne’er do wells, or don’t belong in a certain neighborhood, or pick-some-other-made-up-reason, AND they want to take a look in the car to see what nefarious things the driver and passenger have been up to. Furthermore, often they want to speak with the driver and passengers in an attempt to get their permission to search the car.
But even with the wide practice of pretextual police stopes, there’s still some protection for you — at least the police need to come up with some legally cognizable reason to pull you over.
BUT NOT IF YOU SIGN UP FOR S.A.V.E.
You sign up for S.A.V.E., you’re essentially waiving your rights to even the limited protections afforded a driver of an automobile. You might think: “well, I don’t do anything wrong, why should I care?”
With all respect due police officers (who have a very difficult job) — they get paid to arrest people and make sure they’re prosecuted. By putting this sticker on your car, you are inviting them to pull you over between the hours of midnight and 6am.
This is a colossally poor idea. Why would you want a “please pull me over” sign on your car? I can think of a few ways this could end poorly for the generally-law-abiding driver.
Just off the top of my head:
- You lend car to friend and forget to tell them about the sticker. Friend calls you after car is Livestopped and he’s arrested and released on ROR, rather agitated at you.
- You go out for a beer or two and stay out too late. On your way home, police see sticker and pull you over. Congrats on your new DUI.
- You’re out with friends, are the DD, and like a responsible adult, are driving a pal home whose had too much to drink. Police see sticker and pull you over. Friend does something stupid during traffic stop [like, I don't know, admitting to having weed, or carrying a gun — which you didn't know about]. Congrats, you all end up cuffed in the back of a cruiser.
- Maybe you’re do break the law and smoke weed occasionally. In fact, you’d just smoked up a few hours before to driving to a friend’s house after midnight. You’re not high anymore, but there are still metabolites in your system, and you still reek a bit of weed. On the way you get stopped, forgetting you left your pipe in the cup-holder, where the officer sees it as he approaches. He also detects the odor of marijuana on you. Was that pretty dumb of you? Yup, pretty much. Your reward for being dumb: a drug-related DUI, possible possession charge, and a paraphernalia charge.
- Don’t sign up for S.A.V.E.
- Get The Club if you’re worried about your car getting stolen.
But if you nevertheless insist on the S.A.V.E. sticker, and you get pulled over, remember the following:
- When you’re pulled over, turn off your radio, shut off the car and put your keys on the dash. If it’s night time, turn on your dome light. Then, rest your hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel.
- As the officer approaches, roll down your window. When he asks you for your license, registration, and insurance, slowly retrieve them and hand them to the officer.
- If he asks you any other questions (“bo you know why I pulled you over?”, or “have you been drinking tonight?”) remember that you do not have to answer them.
- You will not talk yourself out of a ticket. You may talk yourself into one, or into being arrested.
- If the officer asks if he can “take a look around” in your car, your answer is “No.”
Finally, remember this — if an officer suspects you of DUI and requests you to take a chemical test to determine your BAC and you refuse, you will lose your license for one year:
75 Pa. C.S. § 1547. Chemical testing to determine amount of alcohol or controlled substance.
(a) General rule.–Any person who drives, operates or is in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle in this Commonwealth shall be deemed to have given consent to one or more chemical tests of breath, blood or urine for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of blood or the presence of a controlled substance if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe the person to have been driving, operating or in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle:
(1) in violation of section 1543(b)(1.1) (relating to driving while operating privilege is suspended or revoked), 3802 (relating to driving under influence of alcohol or controlled substance) or 3808(a)(2) (relating to illegally operating a motor vehicle not equipped with ignition interlock);
(b) Suspension for refusal.–
(1) If any person placed under arrest for a violation of section 3802 [ed. DUI] is requested to submit to chemical testing and refuses to do so, the testing shall not be conducted but upon notice by the police officer, the department shall suspend the operating privilege of the person as follows:
(i) Except as set forth in subparagraph (ii), for a period of 12 months…
I’ll leave you with the wise words of Chris Rock (NSFW)