Jay-Z’s 99 Problems was a hugely popular song when it was released. Taking a close look at the lyrics, however, I can’t help but to notice all the legal errors that are present concerning the Fourth Amendment. What’s more concerning is how many people hold those misunderstandings, too. Hopefully this blog can clear things up.
“The year is ‘94 and in my trunk is raw. In my rearview mirror is the m*********ing law. I got two choices y’all, pull over the car or bounce on the double put the pedal to the floor. Now I ain’t trying to see no highway chase with jake. Plus, I got a few dollars, I can fight the case.”
Here, Jay-Z describes having drugs in a trunk and seeing a police cruiser attempting to pull him over. He then goes over his options: pull over, or speed away. Since he knows he can hire a lawyer, Jay-Z presumably knows the law well enough to know that running is never a good idea. A high-speed chase itself will give the officer an independent basis to arrest him and search his person, impound the vehicle, and search every inch of it as well. On the other hand, a traffic stop, at worst, leads to a potentially unlawful search, which any competent criminal defense attorney should be able to suppress.
“So I pull over to the side of the road. And I heard “Son, do you know what I’m stopping you for?” “Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low? Do I look like a mind reader, sir, I don’t know. Am I under arrest or should I guess some more?”
So the driver wisely chose to pull over. By submitting to a show of police authority, the Fourth Amendment has officially been triggered. Next, the officer approaches his window, and asks him if he knows why he was pulled over. This is an important question we’ve all heard. Every stop needs to be predicated on reasonable suspicion, and every search on probable cause. If there isn’t any, the stop and search, respectively, are not valid. At this point, the driver should start taking mental notes, or, better yet, telling the officer he will be recording the conversation.
However, the driver doesn’t ask for any sort of cause, but just lists unfortunate stereotypes. When it comes to making traffic stops, the Supreme Court does not have a problem with profiling as a portion of the officer’s subjective determination, so long as it isn’t solely racial, and there are objective, specific and articulable reasons for the stop in the first place.
He does say and do some smart stuff. Saying “I don’t know” to an officer is always better than admitting guilt or trying to talk yourself out of something. Additionally, asking “am I under arrest” is maybe the most important question someone in his position can ask. If the officer were to tell Jay-Z’s driver he was not under arrest, yet looked around the car anyway, the search would be illegal unless the officer can demonstrate probable cause for the search itself. His next response to the officer, however, is not so smart.
“Well, you was doing fifty-five in a fifty-four. License and registration and step out of the car. Are you carrying a weapon on you, I know a lot of you are.” “I ain’t stepping outta s**t all my paper’s legit.”
Regardless of how minor the infraction is, the stop is lawful. Jay-Z’s driver was speeding. Thus, he cannot refuse to comply with a lawful command of a police officer who has lawfully detained him. Refusing to do so is essentially asking to be arrested.
Moreover, the officer may have had a lawful reason for asking him to step out of the car, such as a protective weapons search. This kind of search also applies to the vehicle itself, so if the officer has a specific reason to believe the vehicle has weapons, the officer can perform a protective search where weapons may be readily accessible.
I know it may sound bogus, but as long as the stop is lawful, the officer can order Jay-Z’s driver (and any passengers) to step out of the car, and arrest him for refusing to do so. Moreover, depending on the circumstances, the officer may also be justified in patting down Jay-Z’s driver and performing a limited weapons search of the car.
“Well do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?” “Well, my glove compartment’s locked, so is the trunk, and the back. I know my rights so you’re gonna need a warrant for that.” “Aren’t you sharp as a tack, you some type of lawyer or something, somebody important or something?” “Nah I ain’t pass the bar but I know a little bit, enough that you won’t illegally search my s**t.”
Luckily, it seems as though the officer in this song doesn’t know criminal procedure very well either, and no one is arrested. So, ignoring the trouble Jay-Z’s driver already could have got himself into by refusing to comply with a lawful order, his response to an officer asking to look around the car is spot on. As a general rule, never consent to search. Consenting to search obliterates challenging a search as lacking probable cause. This is not being rude or uncooperative, it is simply exercising your Fourth Amendment right. Jay-Z’s driver does just that. However, he expresses it poorly.
What his response does express well is a fundamental misunderstanding about the law. Put simply, locking your glovebox, trunk, and back doors will NOT require the police to get a warrant before searching them. In fact, pursuant to the Supreme Court case California v. Acevedo, there is essentially no warrant requirement for automobiles or their compartments. All the police need is probable cause that evidence of a crime will be found within. There are a few hypothetical situations where a warrant may still be required, but for our purposes—and Jay-Z’s—the warrant requirement is completely irrelevant.
“We’ll see how smart you are when the K-9s come.”
This line presents an interesting dilemma. The Supreme Court has held dog sniffs of automobiles are not a search. Therefore, if Jay-Z’s driver was pulled over by a K-9 unit, and the dog was immediately on hand, walked around the car and alerted officers to the “raw” in the trunk, he’d be sunk.
However, here the officer says “when the K-9s” come. Well, here is another situation where the officer doesn’t seem to know the law very well. Police officers cannot detain someone longer than necessary to facilitate a dog sniff. So, if he pulled Jay-Z’s driver over for speeding, he could only lawfully detain him long enough to get his identification, run his license, and process a ticket. Anything further would be an illegal detention, or would require an independent basis justifying detaining the suspect longer. Here, the cop doesn’t seem to have a leg to stand on. Even if the K-9 sniff uncovered all the drugs in the trunk, they’d be suppressible.
Jay-Z then ends with the hook. Of all the 99 problems his driver has, knowledge of his legal rights seems to be one, too. But, that’s admittedly not very catchy.