Justice 101: Know Your Rights


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

Justice 101 held an informative lecture in Doudna Hall, room 103, on April 11 regarding the essential framework to utilize an interaction with the police. The lecture explained what citizens’ rights are under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment. Dr. Frank C. King Jr., the executive director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, coordinated the lecture. Crystal Pound, a licensed attorney and the co-founder of Justice 101, Alex Lodge, a licensed attorney and the co-founder and secretary of Justice 101 and University of Iowa Law student Sydney Schreiber led the presentation.

Lodge said, “Things tend to work much better when you have a clearer understanding of the rules and regulations and what’s appropriate and not appropriate.” The presentation was given to the community as a means of advice from adjunct lecturers from the University of Iowa, College of Law. The presentation was not meant to be legal advice.

The main idea of the presentation was to show what the average citizen should and should not do when in situations with law enforcement, which are set by the constitution. The rights for everyday citizens are under the constitution.

Lodge and Pound compared the varying state laws regarding interactions with law enforcement to the varying sets of house rules in Uno. Pound said, “If I know the house rules and you don’t, I’m going to beat you at Uno every time.” For example, it is wise to know if the encounter is in a state with single-party consent laws, which would mean only one person involved in a conversation needs to know it is being recorded.

They showed a scene from Good Boys (2019), in which comedian Sam Richardson plays a cop and runs into a couple of boys skipping school. The boys bring the issue up to Richardson, who decides to engage in the conversation with them and shrugs the issue off. The question came up of whether the boys were being seized, or momentarily possessed, by the police in that scene, and there was a split in the room’s opinion. This difference in interpretation of whether the boys were free to go or not from the conversation with law enforcement exemplified a valuable lesson.

Lodge used this movie clip from “Good Boys” to infer that the rules of how to interact with law enforcement are never universal. The Fourth Amendment “protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures by government and law enforcement.” The Fifth Amendment “protects you from being compelled to make incriminating statements against yourself or be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment “makes the Fourth and Fifth Amendments applicable to the States.” These amendments are set up as protection for citizens, but they must be used intentionally, according to the presenters.

A law enforcement stop is a seizure, or “taking possession of a person or a person’s property by law enforcement.” However, a law enforcement stop is not a seizure if the citizen is free to leave the situation. Lodge said, “If you have the right to leave, leave.” If a citizen asks if they are free to go and they are not, then they are being detained, which is when a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights apply. Police can pat a citizen down during this stage, but they cannot go into a citizen’s pockets unless a citizen becomes under arrest.

Communication also has to do with how a citizen looks or presents themself and that law enforcement may use how someone appears as probable cause. Pound and Lodge reminded students that even though it is a burden on cops to be denied access to search a citizen, they do not have to consent to searches without probable cause, so just respond “no.”

Pound advised students to listen to what law enforcement is actually asking them. “You can say things that are the truth without giving every detail,” said Pound. Pound advised students to consider what the bigger picture is that law enforcement is focused on. Pound reminded students, “You don’t know the tactics are happening,” and to think about the social awareness of an encounter.

Citizens also have the right to remain silent, but they need to clearly communicate that this is their intention. “If you stay silent, you have to say that and continue to remain silent,” said Lodge. A simple way to say this is “I’m invoking my right to remain silent.” Any intention made must be done so very clearly and affirmatively. If a citizen wants an attorney, rather than asking if they will get one, they must affirmatively say “I want an attorney.”

Citizens do not have control of how legal consequences pan out months later, but each person can control what they say in the moment of the initial interaction. The citizens’ powers are in preserving as many of their individual rights as they possibly can.

The overall goals when put in a situation with the law are to 1) Be safe and get home safe, 2) Keep it short and sweet and 3) Preserve as many rights as possible. Another set of rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement can be remembered by using the acronym PASS. “P” stands for parents, and “A” stands for attorney. The “SS” in the acronym PASS stand for Silence and Stay silent.

If a citizen is concerned with the altercation, they should call their parents to give them their location and the officer’s name and badge number using speaker phone. Remember to affirmatively invoke the right to an attorney.

The goal for this program is to share its curriculum nation-wide. The tentative plan is to encourage law students to take this course with them where they go so that they may present the easily modifiable course for different states. The program began as a Street Law course in 2016 at University of Iowa, College of Law. In 2020, it was established as a nonprofit and was able to develop into three levels of curriculum: Street Law Basics for high school students, Justice 101 Essentials for college students and Justice 101 Fundamentals for law students.