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'Doing 55 in a 54': Law Review Article Applies Fourth Amendment to Jay-Z's '99 Problems'

I am not a fan of law review articles. The overwhelming majority of them are probably read by five people total and are on esoteric topics that are of no relevance to practicing lawyers or any other humans. See, e.g., the article I wrote in the early 1990s for the Maryland Law Review on a topic I can no longer remember and cannot find anywhere on the Internet. (And yes, I know that "Maryland Law Review" is supposed to be written in upper and lower case capital letters but this is a blog and we don't do that).

Every couple of years, however, someone does write a law review article that I actually look forward to reading, and I now add Caleb Mason, Associate Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School, to that short list for his "JAY-Z’S 99 PROBLEMS, VERSE 2: A CLOSE READING WITH FOURTH AMENDMENT GUIDANCE FOR COPS AND PERPS" (via Above the Law).

For those of you who are not familiar with Jay-Z's work, "99 Problems" (the video is here, and it contains some curse words) was a very popular song released in 2004. As Mason describes it, 

In one compact, teachable verse (Verse 2), the song forces us to think about traffic stops, vehicle searches, drug smuggling, probable cause, and racial profiling, and it beautifully tees up my favorite pedagogical heuristic: life lessons for cops and robbers.

Specifically, Verse 2 contains the story of a young, black man being pulled over (ostensibly for "doing fifty-five in a fifty-four" mph zone) by police, police interrogation as to whether the man has a weapon and whether they can "look around the car a little bit," whether the stop constitutes an arrest, the fact that the driver's glove compartment and trunk are locked and whether that necessitates a warrant for a search, and police threats to turn the K-9s on him.

Mason breaks down and analyzes each line of Verse 2 to offer a "detailed, accurate analysis of the Fourth Amendment issues Verse 2 raises." He concludes that 

The lesson for cops is that if you want to use traffic laws as a pretext for catching drug smugglers, you can. Absolutely, no problem. But you have to do it right, and doing it right can be labor-intensive. ...

The lesson for perps is threefold: (1) don’t consent, (2) know the reasonable suspicion boilerplate and don't provide it, and (3) make a record of the encounter any way you can, including your behavior, appearance, and demeanor before and during the stop, the officer's stated motive for the stop, all of your responses to questioning, whether or not you were placed under arrest, and the exact amount of time you were held on the side of the road.

All in all, this is a very creative and interesting article by Caleb Mason that I, as a Jay-Z fan and a fan of the song, enjoyed very much.

Posted by Bruce Carton on July 12, 2012 at 04:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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