You Have The Right To…What?
In criminal and civil situations, it is important to know your rights
(St. Charles, MO) – You see those dreaded red and blue lights in your rear view mirror. You pull over and the officer wants you to open the trunk so he can look around.
What if you are struggling to pay the bills and your landlord wants you out so he can charge someone else higher rent?
Where do you turn?
Legal experts want you to know your rights in these cases and in countless other possible scenarios. That’s the focus of the latest “Missouri Viewpoints.”
“The police aren’t going to tell you what your rights are.” Welch asserts. “…they’re going to try and coerce you into doing things to make their job easier.”
That’s why he says it’s important to study up on your rights now, in case you ever end up in a bad situation where you are a part of an investigation. That’s why he recommends not voluntary allowing police to search your property. His advice is to ask to see a warrant, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
“There is also an intrinsic value to our privacy in our homes.”
Welch suggests asking a simple question when being detained by a police officer, especially if you decline to allow them to search your property (such as your car): am I free to leave?
“If the police are asking you for permission, that means that they don’t have the legal right to search…so, just say no…”
That viewpoint may not be popular with everyone because it will make investigations harder for law enforcement at times. Welch believes that is simply the result of making individual civil rights a priority in our society.
What happens when you believe you’ve been wronged by another private citizen, or even by a government office?
A common belief is that only those with a lot of money have access to our courts for civil action. Dan Glazier from the Legal Services of Eastern Missouri office says that’s not true.
“Access to justice, access to the courts is the very foundation of what our country is based on.”
Sometimes, that means helping a domestic violence victim get a restraining order. Legal aid lawyers also help low income families access public health care programs if they are denied services.
It could also mean legal aid attorneys take landlords to court to stop a wrongful eviction when the tenant can’t afford a lawyer otherwise.
Glazier says family law matters, like domestic violence situations, are the most common cases where legal aid is requested from his office.
Legal aid offices, Glazier explains, sometimes also take on consumer issues on behalf of low income Missourians. While the circumstances need to be appropriate, that could involve taking action against a business that defrauded someone or even protection from aggressive collectors for things like medical bills.
There are income qualifications when it comes to using legal aid services. These are for low income Missourians who, otherwise, would not have any access to legal counsel.
If you qualify, the legal aid services are free.
Legal aid offices operate privately and independently with funding from government and private grants.
In Glazier’s view, that’s money well spent from both the public and private sector. “We judge our society by how we treat the most vulnerable in our society…when we can’t provide access to the judicial system for those most vulnerable, that’s when our society is vulnerable.”
On a less philosophical level, Glazier says the importance of legal aid offices has an impact every day. “The work that we do keeps people safe. The work that we do gets people access to education so that can grow and they can prosper. The work that we do helps communities.”
On the web:
Missouri Civil Liberties Association: www.MOCLA.org
Joe Welch, Attorney At Law: www.StLDrugLawyer.com
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri: www.LSEM.org
Legal Services (statewide): www.LSMO.org