Right to remain silent? Using it in traffic stop just got NJ woman $30K
TRENTON — A lawyer who alleged she was threatened with arrest for not answering a State Police officer's questions during a traffic stop has agreed to a $30,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit.
Philadelphia attorney Rebecca Musarra claimed her basic right to remain silent was violated during the Oct.16, 2016 traffic stop on Route 519 in Warren County near the Pennsylvania border.
According to the terms of the settlement, first reported by government transparency adocate John Paff of the website NJ Civil Settlements, Musarra's case has been dismissed and the settlement does not represent an admission of guilt by State Police.
In dash cam video of the stop, Musarra is seen being asked several times by one of the officers if she knew why she was stopped.
“Do you not talk?” the trooper asks her. When she doesn’t respond, another officer uses a flashlight to knock on the driver’s window and warns that she would be arrested if she didn’t respond.
After some back-and-forth, during which Musarra says her father is a former county prosecutor and during which she refuses to let go of her cell phone, she is told to get out of the car and is handcuffed.
“Are you detaining me because I refused to speak?” Musarra asks.
“Yeah,” the officer says, as he leads her to a patrol car. “Obstruction.”
The officer says “it didn’t have to go this way,” to which she replies “if only I didn’t exercise my rights.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the right to remain silent dates back to two landmark Supreme Court decisions in Escobedo v. Illinois (1964) and Miranda v. Arizona (1966) — the namesake of the “Miranda rights” of which police are required to inform suspects. Those rights, based on the Fifth Amendment right against incriminating oneself, and include the rights to remain silent and to access an attorney.
Musarra’s suit said she was handcuffed to a bench while the supervisor reviewed the dashcam. She was ultimately released and told a “mistake had been made,” which the supervisor chalked up to a rookie officer’s training.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com
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