Local Lawyer Talks PSU Justice, Students’ Rights
The huge number of people who did not show up for the University Park Undergraduate Association’s Town Hall meeting really missed out. Monday night in 101 Thomas featured State College defense attorney Andrew Shubin, who, since 1991, has represented clients in cases ranging from underage drinking to homicide to “the occasional animal intercourse case.” Shubin spoke about students’ rights and their relationship with the police and the community as a whole.
They’re Out to Get You!
A big problem is the incongruity between predominant student mindsets and Centre County locals, Shubin explained.
In my view it’s like Mississippi, Pennsylvania. It’s a very conservative area and Penn State is a blip in the middle of it; if you look at a map, you’re in the middle of Appalachia. It has a different feel to it politically. Never forget the people around you, the people who populate the justice system.
The police, courts, and juries are all composed of older, white, conservative demographics, Shubin said, which makes it much harder to get a favorable ruling. Those people in the justice system also tend to come down much harder on minor crimes.
In Mount Airy, Philadelphia, if I got caught selling a quarter or a half ounce of pot to my friend, if the police cared, I’d probably get a second chance. Maybe I’d plead for a misdemeanor or maybe I’d plead for nothing. Here, however, if you get caught selling pot to your friends, you get a two- to four-year mandatory state prison sentence because it’s a school zone. They do that to make students think about becoming confidential informers. […] It’s an utter outrage to me. […] That ideology permeates every outlook.
Regarding the distribution of police activity, Shubin said he’s “become very cynical.” “To what end?” he asked of the aggressive police presence downtown for run-of-the-mill underages and possible furnishing charges. “Do we want our police more focused on kids getting high across the street from East Halls, or should they focus on property crime, violent crimes?” He also believes that the motivation for the concentrated police activity on these petty crimes is none other than boosting the numbers.
Students are often the first on Centre County’s chopping block as well. Shubin described a tendency within the town to blame students whenever something goes wrong, but contrasted this against their “love” of us whenever they’re taking our money at the bars or in liquor stores or by mere virtue that nothing would exist in this Mississippi-esque area if not for Penn State. Look no further than the mind-boggling amount of attention spent by the Centre Daily Times on condemning State Patty’s Day, contrasted with no outcry about Halloween festivities, which coincided with a lucrative football weekend.
Words of Wisdom
Shubin said that the most important thing to remember was to avoid getting a criminal history. Something as small as stealing a sandwich from McLanahan’s, in Mississippi State College would garner a retail theft charge, staying on your permanent record, likely preventing you from ever having a financial career.
If you do encounter the police in a criminal capacity, the attorney shared his three rules of interacting with them.
- Never give a statement to a police officer. Anything you say, or even your actions, can be used against you. The only exception is that you have to identify yourself, which only amounts to giving your name. You do not have to provide your license unless you are driving.
- Answer every question with “attorney,” “lawyer,” or “counselor.” The police must then stop questioning you. That’s why the 6th Amendment exists, and we shouldn’t apologize for it.
- Always be cooperative with a police officer. Don’t argue. The officer will characterize you as uncooperative, and that can be used against you. Asserting your right to counsel cannot.
Shubin, and the UPUA after him, cautioned that this was not a session to learn the tricks of the trade or to assume you’ll walk. The meeting did present invaluable tips to use if you’re ever in a tight spot. Above all, be careful. Especially since State Patty’s is now on the radar.
I really wish I could have taped the whole talk so I wouldn’t have to cut parts out for this post, which is already double regulation-length. Next town hall focuses on student housing—come share your best screwed-over-by-your-landlord story.