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These excerpts are but a few from decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court for the last 135 years. These excerpts are only from a handful of cases, there are dozens -- if including all SC cases and standing lower court decisions there are hundreds, if not thousands, and they all concur.

At Liberty: An Interiew from the Street with Our Fourth and Fifth Amendments

Our Constitution is designed to maximize individual freedoms within a framework of ordered liberty. Statutory limitations on those freedoms are examined for substantive authority and content, as well as for definiteness or certainty of expression.


Here is an example 2008 Florida arrest including both the statute and the law enforcement procedure set against my less than brief analysis of Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, Humboldt County, et al., magnifying your view will make the police report easier to read.

Whether you are very familar with your rights or reading to learn more about them, I recommend now reading this wici will open in separarte window and then you can come back and read the rest of this page -- this page also has a newly decided (2009) case which pertians to vehicle searches at the end.


As generally stated, the void-for-vagueness doctrine requires that a penal statute define the criminal offense with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

Although the doctrine focuses both on actual notice to citizens and arbitrary enforcement, we have recognized recently that the more important aspect of the vagueness doctrine "is not actual notice, but the other principal element of the doctrine -- the requirement that a legislature establish minimal guidelines to govern law enforcement."

Where the legislature fails to provide such minimal guidelines, a criminal statute may permit "a standardless sweep [that] allows policemen, prosecutors, and juries to pursue their personal predilections."

When law enforcement officers have probable cause to believe that a person has committed a crime, the balance of interests between the State and the individual shifts significantly, so that the individual may be forced to tolerate restrictions on liberty and invasions of privacy that possibly will never be redressed, even if charges are dismissed or the individual is acquitted. Such individuals may be arrested, and they may not resist. But probable cause, and nothing less, represents the point at which the interests of law enforcement justify subjecting an individual to any significant intrusion beyond that sanctioned in Terry, including either arrest or the need to answer questions that the individual does not want to answer in order to avoid arrest or end a detention.

The standard courts should employ is an objective one. “Would the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that the action taken was appropriate?” Lesser evidence would mean that the Court would tolerate invasions on the privacy of citizens supported by mere hunches—a result the Court would not tolerate.

... it is simply fantastic to urge that such a procedure performed in public by a policeman while the citizen stands helpless, perhaps facing a wall with his hands raised, is a ‘petty indignity.’ It is a serious intrusion upon the sanctity of the person, which may inflict great indignity and arouse strong resentment, and it is not to be undertaken lightly.

The scheme of the Fourth Amendment becomes meaningful only when it is assured that, at some point, the conduct of those charged with enforcing the laws can be subjected to the more detached, neutral scrutiny of a judge who must evaluate the reasonableness of a particular search or seizure in light of the particular circumstances. And, in making that assessment, it is imperative that the facts be judged against an objective standard: would the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search "warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief" that the action taken was appropriate? Anything less would invite intrusions upon constitutionally guaranteed rights based on nothing more substantial than inarticulate hunches, a result this Court has consistently refused to sanction. And simple ‘good faith on the part of the arresting officer is not enough.’ . . . If subjective good faith alone were the test, the protections of the Fourth Amendment would evaporate, and the people would be ‘secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,’ only in the discretion of the police.

To the extent that an ordinance criminalizes a suspect's failure to answer such questions put to him by police officers, Fifth Amendment concerns are implicated. It is a... settled principle that, while the police have the right to request citizens to answer voluntarily questions concerning unsolved crimes, they have no right to compel them to answer.

It has long been settled that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the seizure and detention or search of an individual's person unless there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime, except under certain conditions strictly defined by the legitimate requirements of law enforcement and by the limited extent of the resulting intrusion on individual liberty and privacy.

The scope of that exception to the probable cause requirement for seizures of the person has been defined by a series of cases, beginning with Terry, holding that a police officer with reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, based on articulable facts, may detain a suspect briefly for purposes of limited questioning and, in so doing, may conduct a brief "frisk" of the suspect to protect himself from concealed weapons (suspicious items other than weapons retain their Fourth Amendment protection during a frisk. This means that if a police officer claims that objects in your pocket feel like drugs, the objects cannot be further investigated without your consent). Where probable cause is lacking, we have expressly declined to allow significantly more intrusive detentions or searches on the Terry rationale, despite the assertion of compelling law enforcement interests.

Terry encounters must be brief; the suspect must not be moved or asked to move more than a short distance; physical searches are permitted only to the extent necessary to protect the police officers involved during the encounter; and, most importantly, the suspect must be free to leave after a short time and to decline to answer the questions put to him.

Detention beyond the limits of Terry without probable cause would improve the effectiveness of legitimate police investigations by only a small margin, but it would expose individual members of the public to exponential increases in both the intrusiveness of the encounter and the risk that police officers would abuse their discretion for improper ends. Furthermore, regular expansion of Terry encounters into more intrusive detentions, without a clear connection to any specific underlying crimes, is likely to exacerbate ongoing tensions, where they exist, between the police and the public. In sum, under the Fourth Amendment, police officers with reasonable suspicion that an individual has committed or is about to commit a crime may detain that individual, using some force if necessary, for the purpose of asking investigative questions. They may ask their questions in a way calculated to obtain an answer. But they may not compel an answer, and they must allow the person to leave after a reasonably brief period of time unless the information they have acquired during the encounter has given them probable cause sufficient to justify an arrest.

Under Terry, the police can stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if they have a reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity "may be afoot," even if they lack probable cause under the Fourth Amendment. Reasonable suspicion entails some minimal level of objective justification for making a stop -- that is, something more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or "hunch," but less than the level of suspicion required for probable cause.

An arrest is a wholly different kind of intrusion upon individual freedom from a limited search for weapons, and the interests each is designed to serve are likewise quite different. An arrest is the initial stage of a criminal prosecution. It is intended to vindicate society's interest in having its laws obeyed, and it is inevitably accompanied by future interference with the individual's freedom of movement, whether or not trial or conviction ultimately follows. The protective search for weapons, on the other hand, constitutes a brief, though far from inconsiderable, intrusion upon the sanctity of the person. It does not follow that, because an officer may lawfully arrest a person only when he is apprised of facts sufficient to warrant a belief that the person has committed or is committing a crime, the officer is equally unjustified, absent that kind of evidence, in making any intrusions short of an arrest. Moreover, a perfectly reasonable apprehension of danger may arise long before the officer is possessed of adequate information to justify taking a person into custody for the purpose of prosecuting him for a crime. Petitioner's reliance on cases which have worked out standards of reasonableness with regard to "seizures" constituting arrests and searches incident thereto is thus misplaced. It assumes that the interests sought to be vindicated and the invasions of personal security may be equated in the two cases, and thereby ignores a vital aspect of the analysis of the reasonableness of particular types of conduct under the Fourth Amendment. See Camara v. Municipal Court, supra.

Our evaluation of the proper balance that has to be struck in this type of case leads us to conclude that there must be a narrowly drawn authority to permit a reasonable search for weapons for the protection of the police officer, where he has reason to believe that he is dealing with an armed and dangerous individual, regardless of whether he has probable cause to arrest the individual for a crime. The officer need not be absolutely certain that the individual is armed; the issue is whether a reasonably prudent man, in the circumstances, would be warranted in the belief that his safety or that of others was in danger. Cf. Beck v. Ohio, 379 U. S. 89, 379 U. S. 91 (1964); Brinegar v. United States, 338 U. S. 160, 338 U. S. 174-176 (1949); Stacey v. Emery, 97 U. S. 642, 97 U. S. 645 (1878). And in determining whether the officer acted reasonably in such circumstances, due weight must be given not to his inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or "hunch," but to the specific reasonable inferences which he is entitled to draw from the facts in light of his experience. Cf. Brinegar v. United States supra.

"The substance of all the definitions" of probable cause "is a reasonable ground for belief of guilt." McCarthy v. De Armit, 99 Pa. St. 63, 69, quoted with approval in the Carroll opinion. 267 U.S. at 267 U. S. 161. And this "means less than evidence which would justify condemnation" or conviction, as Marshall, C.J., said for the Court more than a century ago in @ 11 U. S. 348. Since Marshall's time, at any rate, it has come to mean more than bare suspicion: probable cause exists where "the facts and circumstances within their [the officers'] knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information [are] sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that" an offense has been or is being committed.

A person who is stopped on less than probable cause cannot be punished for failing to identify himself.

...to permit investigative detentions in situations where the officers lack a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based on objective facts, Fourth Amendment concerns would be implicated.

Supreme Court Fourth and Fifth Amendment cases:

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)

Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491 (1983)

Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352 (1983), an excellent review of your Rights when approached or detained by a Police officer is found at footnotes 9 - 10. This case is of historical importance not only because it represented the end of "stop and ID laws" for the entire United States, but additionally it is one of the unique examples of an ordinary citizen successfully representing himself all the way through the U.S. Supreme Court. Edward C. Lawson, Ed's youtube link.

United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1 (1989)

Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 (2004) (note: also see first link at top of page: example 2008 Florida arrest including both the statute and the law enforcement procedure.

Brinegar v. United States, 338 U.S. 160 (1949), "The substance of all the definitions" of probable cause "is a reasonable ground for belief of guilt." McCarthy v. De Armit, 99 Pa. St. 63, 69, quoted with approval in the Carroll opinion. 267 U.S. at 267 U. S. 161. And this "means less than evidence which would justify condemnation" or conviction, as Marshall, C.J., said for the Court more than a century ago in @ 11 U. S. 348. Since Marshall's time, at any rate, it has come to mean more than bare suspicion: probable cause exists where "the facts and circumstances within their [the officers'] knowledge and of which they had reasonably trustworthy information [are] sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief that" an offense has been or is being committed. Carroll v. United States, 267 U. S. 132, 267 U. S. 162.

Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979), Absent any basis for suspecting appellant of misconduct, the balance between the public interest in crime prevention and appellant's right to personal security and privacy tilts in favor of freedom from police interference.

Vehicle searches:

Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. ___ (2009), 1) Belton does not authorize a vehicle search incident to a recent occupant’s arrest after the arrestee has been secured and cannot access the interior of the vehicle. 2) Circumstances unique to the automobile context justify a search incident to arrest when it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle.

Belton extended the so-called “Chimel rule” of searches incident to a lawful arrest, established in Chimel v. California (1969), to vehicles.

Belton has been distinguished by Arizona v. Gant, which restricted searches incident to arrest to circumstance where it is reasonable to believe that: 1) the arrested individual might access the vehicle at the time of the search; or 2) the arrested individual's vehicle contains evidence of the offense that led to the arrest.

A warrantless search of a vehicle under such circumstances would be permissible only if the occupant were in a position to reach within the vehicle to destroy evidence or get ahold of a weapon. Or, the court added, a warrantless search would be valid even after the occupant is restrained if the police suspect the car contains evidence related to the arrest.

Scalia took the unusual step (for him) of resisting the temptation to dissent, even though he was not entirely satisfied with the ruling, because he thought law-enforcement officers deserve clear guidance rather than a 4-1-4 decision.

Reading the Fourth Amendment "to allow vehicle searches incident to any arrest," Stevens wrote, "would serve no purpose except to provide a police entitlement, and it is anathema to the Fourth Amendment to permit a warrantless search on that basis."

"Consistent with our precedent, our analysis begins, as it should in every case addressing the reasonableness of a warrantless search, with the basic rule that “searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment—subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.” Katz v. United States, 389 U. S. 347, 357 (1967) (footnote omitted). Among the exceptions to the warrant requirement is a search incident to a lawful arrest. See Weeks v. United States, 232 U. S. 383, 392 (1914). The exception derives from interests in officer safety and evidence preservation that are typically implicated in arrest situations. See United States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218, 230–234 (1973); Chimel, 395 U. S., at 763," [Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. ___ (2009)].

The rules governing permissible searches should be clear and uncomplicated for officers on the street, but convenience for the government should not come at the expense of individual rights under the Constitution.

Remember, the Constitution of these United States of America applies in every square inch of America. The Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, "protects people, not places," and therefore applies as much to the citizen on the streets as well as at home or elsewhere, [Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)].

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