Student Legal Services and UMPD host ‘know your rights event’

The SLSO handles about 700 cases a year


(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

By Cassie McGrath, Collegian Staff

Frederic Bartmon of the Student Legal Services Office and Lt. Thomas O’Donnell of the University of Massachusetts Police Department held a presentation titled, “Interacting with the Police: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities” Tuesday evening.

The event was held in order to educate students on their rights and responsibilities on campus and within their personal lives. Bartmon tackled legal questions while O’Donnell gave the perspective of the law enforcement.

Bartmon, former prosecutor and employee of the district attorney’s office touched upon the many resources the SLSO provided.

“We are your law firm,” he said. “You have a law firm where you can come for free legal consultation and in many instances actual legal services.”

The office, which has been around for over four decades, handles about 700 cases a year.

Bartmon then explained how many students come looking for different resources.

“The reasons for needing a lawyer are extremely diverse,” he said.

Whether it is handling a lease, encounters for the police or even asking a simple legal consultation, SLSO is there for students.

O’Donnell having the perspective of working with the UMass Police Department touched on the importance of knowing your rights when communicating with an officer and gave advice on what to do in the situation.

Audience members posed questions to O’Donnell such as “Do you have to take a sobriety test?” or “Can we be searched by police?”

Additionally, he gave proper protocols for students if they are pulled over. O’Donnell asked students to be responsible and to respect how an officer might feel in a legal situation, asking civilians to be polite in every situation at the time and report complaints later.

The two legal experts then debated the process of avoiding a breathalyzer test.

O’Donnell said, “You have the right to not incriminate yourself.”

He then further explained this applies in cases where you are pulled over and asked if you were speeding. However, he did mention that if you were to refuse to take the test, you would have your license revoked for 180 days.

Bartmon then explained how, when you appear in court, you would be likely to get your license back right away. This is because it’s difficult for officers to hold up the case of a DUI without the proof from the breathalyzer.

Bartmon claimed that this may seem like an easy way out, but the attorney reminds the audience that when a person is intoxicated, they are usually not assessing their rights this thoroughly.

O’Donnell was then asked various questions about the rights of students on campus in relation to drugs and alcohol, specifically marijuana, which has fairly new laws seeing that the drug was just recently made legal.

New laws include a test to find if a person is impaired by marijuana while driving. In this case the officers will check drivers blood pressure, eyes and even take a urine sample.

“You have the right just like you do in an OUI to say ‘nope I am not interested in any of those,’” O’Donnell said remaining honest with the audience. “I am not promoting that you say no, I am really promoting that you never get to that point.”

O’Donnell then explained how if it ever came to the point where students put themselves in a binding situation due to alcohol, the police have a system where they will bring them down to the station to stay overnight. They are allowed to sleep it off and are released in the morning.

“Say you walk away and pass out in a snowbank and you die. I will feel bad for the rest of my life and someone is going to say that it is my fault,” said O’Donnell, who’s main priority is to keep UMass a safe place, at all costs.

“Our goal is the same, which is to keep you safe and protect your rights,” Bartmon said.

Jessica Kriegsfeld, a senior public health and legal studies major, attended the event. When asked what she thought was most interesting part, she said, “Probably the part about what you have to tell the officer when he pulls you over like you don’t have to answer anything he asks legally.”

Cassie McGrath can be reached at [email protected]