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How to survive police encounters

Flashes of red and blue lights in the rear-view mirror can get the heartbeat racing, however, police encounters don’t have to be a fearful experience.

Gary Asteak, attorney-at-law, spoke during a seminar called “How to Survive Police Encounters” in the Northampton Community College’s Lipkin Theatre on March 6.

Asteak has been a criminal defense lawyer for 42 years and public defender for 25 of those years.

“I’ve observed justice,” he said. “I’ve observed injustice. I’ve seen innocent men and women go to jail and I’ve seen guilty people walk free.”

He told the audience of NCC students and faculty, there is no way to survive a police encounter.

“You may go free,” Asteak said, “But you’ll never forget your encounter with the police.”

One legitimate reason a police officer can pull someone over is for tinted windows.

He explained this is because the officer wants to see if the driver is of color or young. Police officers can also pull someone over for a burned-out tail light or expired registration or inspection.

Once the police officer approaches the car, the encounter begins.

“Be polite, be submissive,” Asteak said. “Everything you say will be used against you. Count on it.”

However, that doesn’t mean the officer can wrongfully incriminate the driver.

“If you are young and of color they’re likely to smell stuff,” he said. “They’re likely to smell the odor of marijuana, even if you don’t have any and even if you haven’t smoked in the car in weeks.”

Asteak suggested that once a person is pulled over, they can ask the officer if they can record the encounter. Officers have no reason to deny the driver from recording if they don’t plan on doing anything wrong.

If a police officer stops a civilian on the street and asks to speak to them, the civilian can politely decline and walk away.

Asteak presented some ways to avoid being put in a dangerous situation involving the police.

“Don’t run,” he said. “Don’t drink and drive. Know who you invite into your car. Make sure your car is insured and inspected.”

The final talking point of Asteak’s seminar explained how to get a criminal case expunged or wiped clean. He made it clear that it is difficult, but possible.

The few ways a record can be cleaned include a dismissed case, the person charged was drinking underage but is now over the age of 21, is 70 years old and hasn’t been arrested for ten years, or if the person has been dead for three years. That last one drew out a few chuckles from the audience. Also, he made a point to say that driving under the influence will always be on the records.

Asteak expressed that even after 42 years, he still enjoys his job.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”