The US Appellate Court Rules Passengers Can Refuse to Show ID to Police

by Aaron Black • March 21, 2019
Showing police your drivers licensePolice can’t extend a traffic stop because a passenger declines to show a police officer identification, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decided in January after hearing a case from Arizona, one of the western states under its jurisdiction.

The ruling resulted from an appeal of a criminal conviction filed by passenger Aflredo Landeros who was sitting in the front passenger seat of a car stopped early in the morning hours for traveling 11 mph faster than the posted speed limit near the Pascua Yaqui Indian reservation southwest of Tucson.

Police Officer Clinton Baker smelled the aroma of alcohol and saw two females in the back seat that he thought were underage and in violation of the 10 p.m. curfew established by the reservation’s law. The women, ages 19 and 21, presented their IDs.

During the stop Landeros repeatedly refused to provide the officer with identification. Drivers are required by law to show a driver’s license, the vehicle’s registration, and proof that the vehicle is insured. Baker testified that it was standard practice to “identify everybody in the vehicle.”

The appellate court’s ruling

The federal appellate court judges considered if authorities can legally require a passenger to show identification, and if police can extend the traffic stop because a passenger refused to produce an ID.

Federal appellate circuit judge Marsha Berzon stated in the court’s opinion that, “Regardless of whether the first request for Landeros’ identification was lawful, law enforcement’s refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer was not.”

However, law enforcement can require a passenger to show identification if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the person had violated the law or was in the process of violating the law. More on that in a bit.

The appellate court also ruled that the officer didn’t have the necessary reasonable suspicion because of Landeros’ refusal and that the officer violated Landeros’ Fourth Amendment right prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures. Therefore evidence obtained in the traffic stop, including six bullets found in Landeros’ pocket during a consented search, shouldn’t have been admitted at his trial. A previous conviction didn’t allow him to have the bullets.

The court also held that Landeros’ refusal did not “constitute a failure to comply with an officer’s lawful order under Arizona Revised Statute § 28-622(A).”

The officer, calling for backup, was not justified in extending the traffic stop. The prosecution argued that Baker did have a reasonable suspicion because he smelled alcohol and that the backseat passengers may be violating the curfew. However, the officer didn’t think Landeros was underage.

Knowing Landeros’ name, the court stated, wouldn’t have made the officer any safer and served to make the traffic stop longer than necessary, putting the officer’s safety at a greater risk.

Traffic stops are inherently dangerous for law enforcement. They have no idea if they are getting into a situation that can turn volatile.

The basics of reasonable suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is an important law enforcement tool and is sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court. It allows officers to conduct a traffic stop and briefly detain a person if the officer has reason to believe that the person is planning, attempting, or engaging in a crime based only on the officer’s training and experience.

The U.S. Supreme Court defines reasonable suspicion as a “sort of common sense conclusion about human behavior” upon which practical people are “entitled to rely.” The justices further explained that reasonable suspicion requires more than an “unarticulated hunch.”

Reasonable suspicion is invited, for example, if police patrolling a high crime area see someone who starts running away.

What should I do if I'm stopped by the Police?

While the appellate court’s ruling affirms that people who aren’t driving may refuse an officer’s request for identification, it’s best to be polite and respectful to the officer when exercising the Fourth Amendment right of refusal.

Now you know as a passenger you don’t have to provide your ID, but do not interfere with the officer or even talk during the stop.

If you’re driving and are stopped by police, it’s legal and highly advisable not to respond to questions posed by the officer. That’s because anything you tell the officer becomes evidence and the state will use that against you.

Simply tell the officer that you are exercising your Miranda rights, which stem from an Arizona case in the 1960s, giving you the right to remain silent. You also under Miranda have the right to have an attorney at your side when you’re questioned. So tell the officer you want to speak to an attorney.

Free legal advice 24-hours a day

Please contact Phoenix, AZ Criminal Defense Attorney Aaron Black for a free telephonic legal consultation or call (480)729-1683.

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