This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, May 9, 2016;
For years the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), through its FlexYourRights.com website, has been teaching what to say – and what not to say – during a traffic stop:
You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud.
You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car, or your home.
If you are not under arrest, you have the right to calmly leave.
You have the right to a lawyer if you are arrested. Ask for one immediately.
It also teaches what else to do:
Do stay calm and be polite.
Do not interfere with or obstruct the police.
Do not lie or give false documents.
Do remember the details of the encounter.
When Rebecca Musarra was pulled over for allegedly exceeding the speed limit in Warren County, New Jersey, on Friday night, October 19, it was textbook. State Trooper Matthew Stazzone asked for her driver’s license, her registration, and her proof of insurance. As she was gathering the information Stazzone asked “While you’re looking for that, do you know why you’re being pulled over tonight?’
Musarra didn’t answer.
Stazzone tried again: “Do you know why you’re being stopped tonight?”
Still no answer.
And then Trooper Stazzone said, “If you don’t answer my questions, I am going to arrest you.” Only then did Mussara respond: “Are you detaining me because I refused to speak?” Answered Stazzone, “Why aren’t you answering my questions? Yeah.” His partner, Trooper Demetric Gosa, added: “Yeah. Obstruction.”
New Jersey’s definition of Obstruction defines it as a criminal act which impedes law enforcement through “flight, intimidation, force, violence, or physical interference or obstacle, or by means of any independently unlawful act.”
Musarra, being an attorney, knew that none of this applied. Nevertheless Trooper Stazzone and his partner demanded that she exit her vehicle, put her keys on the roof and put her hands behind her back. They patted her down, handcuffed her, put her into the back seat of their cruiser, and took her to the station.
Along the way one of the troopers read her her Miranda rights, which included the familiar phrase: “You have the right to remain silent.”
Upon arrival at the station Massura was removed from the cruiser, placed in a holding cell, and handcuffed to a bench.
Trooper Stazzone tried again, asking her questions. Massura refused to answer. A third trooper entered her cell and started asking her the same questions. Still she remained silent.
It wasn’t until a supervisor, one Trooper Butler, came in and asked her what happened that Massura informed him that she was an attorney and that she had the right to remain silent. Trooper Butler said she was obstructing justice.
Finally, after being chained to the bench for 30 minutes, Massura was told by Trooper Butler that he had just reviewed the cruiser’s dash cam video and that he was going to let her go without charging her. He even offered to retrieve her car from the impound lot, and, for good measure, waive the impound fee.
All of which was just a little too much for Mussara, whose father is a former prosecutor and whose mother is a former parole officer. She told S.P. Sullivan, an investigative journalist with NJ.com that “cops have a difficult job to do” but” there has to be some sort of accountability. Who knows what will happen to the next person who comes down the road who decides they have these constitutional rights they want to assert?”
To make the point Musarra hired Kevin Costello to go to bat for her in the case. Costello’s CV is impressive: he is certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Civil Trial Attorney with a track record of extracting multi-million-dollar settlements in cases far more difficult than this one. Naming the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey State Police, State Trooper Matthew Stazzone, and various other “John Does” the complaint begins:
42 U.S.C. 1983 has teeth:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom or usage, of any State … subjects … any citizen of the United States … to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution … shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law.
The complaint goes on to detail exactly what happened that October night and then asks for the remedy:
Wherefore, plaintiff demands judgment against the defendants jointly, severally … [for] compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, cost of suit, attorneys’ fees, enhanced attorneys’ fees, and any other relief the Court deems equitable and just.
As this case unfolds, this writer will bring the details to MIA. The lessons to be learned, not only by the New Jersey State Troopers, but also by observers as well, include the lessons taught by FlexYourRights.com.
The larger lesson is this: if one doesn’t know what his rights are or how to defend them, he (or she) might as well not have any.
FlexYourRights.org: Handling a Traffic Stop