This page is designed to provide general information about some of your civil rights. Know them. Understand them. Invoke them. At Freeman Initiative, we strive to keep abreast of recent court cases of particular importance regarding civil rights due to their potential impact on people’s daily lives and then share the salient points of the rulings here. While nothing on this page constitutes legal advice, it is good information to know.

Fourth Amendment Protections.

The Fourth Amendment, to the Constitution of the United States, is part of the Bill of Rights and states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” This right is not a guarantee against all searches and seizures, but only those that are deemed unreasonable under the law.

Black American equal opportunity


United States v. Frazier, No. 20-4131 (10th Cir. 2022)

In a Fourth Amendment win, the 10th Cir. Court of Appeals issued several good gems in this case about police officers prolonging traffic stops to investigate matters not related to the purpose of the traffic stop. The Court found that traffic stops should be limited to the alleged traffic infraction and related tasks when the investigative detour is unsupported by reasonable suspicion and adds time to the stop. You can find the case summary and opinion here.

Editorial Note: Understand that as a motorist pulled over for an alleged traffic infraction, you are under no obligation to answer questions about your travel plans. You do not give up your Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination by operating a motor vehicle. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court has instructed that refusing to answer such inquiries unrelated to the purpose of the traffic stop cannot be used to establish reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429 (1991); Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979). Courts have acknowledged that “many motorists, even innocent ones, might think it none of the trooper’s business how long” they spent at a particular location or where they came from or are going. E.g., United States v. Santos, 403 F.3d 1120 (10th Cir. 2005)

Generally, when police start asking questions about a motorist’s travel plans and itinerary during an otherwise routine traffic stop, they are engaging in a fishing expedition for incriminating evidence of unlawful activity unrelated to the alleged traffic infraction – as was the situation in the present case. The truth is that police are always fishing for evidence of criminal activity and incriminating admissions during traffic stops. Nearly all traffic stops actually begin on a fishing expedition, usually with the question “do you know why I pulled you over?” This seemingly innocuous open-ended question is actually designed to elicit incriminating statements and admissions of guilt from you on any matter. The response to this question should always be “No, officer, I have no idea.” Don’t needlessly make incriminating admissions or “confessions” about anything, even about going 10 mph over the speed limit. If you were indeed speeding, the police officer already knows how fast and does not need your help.

People often get nervous and confused when being questioned by police for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with engaging in criminal activity, but the perception that a motorist is providing “evasive answers” (which nervous and confused answers can easily be characterized as by officers engaging in fishing) can support a finding of reasonable suspicion. E.g., United States v. Simpson, 609 F.3d 1140 (10th Cir. 2010); United States v. Sanchez-Valderuten, 11 F.3d 985 (10th Cir. 1993). Therefore, it’s often advisable to simply not engage with officers on fishing expeditions by politely and calmly stating that “I respectfully decline to answer any questions.” You are well within your rights to do so, and police may not use your refusal to answer questions as reasonable suspicion for prolonging your seizure (traffic stop) any longer than necessary to issue a traffic citation or for performing a search of you or your vehicle (if they have legitimate cause to do so). Stay calm and provide your license, registration or whatever paperwork is legally required to conclude the encounter.

Read more

State v. Lelm, 962 N.W.2d 419 (N.D. 2021)

The Supreme Court of North Dakota upheld the suppression of evidence obtained from a warrantless search of a car passenger’s backpack because neither the automobile nor the search incident to arrest exception applied. The Court further held that the inevitable discovery doctrine did not apply. You can find the case opinion here.

Editorial Note: It remains a perplexing mystery why people consent to a search of any kind when they know that the item or area to be searched actually contains contraband or other incriminating evidence. When questioned afterwards, these same people who consented in these situations often say that they did not want to appear suspicious, or guilty, or seem as though they had something to hide from the police. It’s illogical to grant consent to search when you know there is contraband or other incriminating evidence. All you are doing is removing all doubt regarding the foregoing concerns just because you did not want to appear guilty. The state will thank you later for helping them make their case against you. The truth is if law enforcement is asking for consent to search, it is because consent is required for them to act; otherwise, they would not be asking—they would be searching. Always keep in mind that there is absolutely nothing wrong with declining to waive one’s Fourth Amendment rights by clearly stating, “I do not give my consent to search.”

Read more

Fifth Amendment Protections.

The Fifth Amendment, to the Constitution of the United States, is part of the Bill of Rights and states: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

There are several rights guaranteed by this Amendment that are important for both criminal and civil legal proceedings. For example, the Fifth Amendment guarantees the right to a grand jury, forbids “double jeopardy,” and protects against self-incrimination in criminal cases, as well as requires “due process of law” be part of any legal proceeding that denies a citizen “life, liberty or property.” The Fifth Amendment also mandates that the government compensate citizens when it takes private property for public use.