Can the police demand my identification?

When the police stop a car due to a traffic violation, they can demand to see the identification of the driver and all passengers, right? Not necessarily. While drivers must produce identification, this is not necessarily so for passengers, as the Ninth Circuit recently held.

During a traffic stop, the police typically demand that the driver and each passenger produce identification. However, in U.S. v. Landeros, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over much of the western United States, held that it is improper to demand identification from passengers who the police do not have a factual basis to suspect of any crime.

In Landeros, the defendant was a passenger in a car that the police stopped near the Pascua Yaqui reservation in Arizona. The driver apologized for speeding and produced his identification. The defendant refused to identify himself so the officer detained everyone and called for backup. When another officer arrived, they yelled at the defendant until he finally exited the car, at which point the officers saw an open beer bottle and arrested him. The defendant consent to a search of his person, and the police found several rounds of ammunition in his pocket. Later, the federal government indicted him for possession of ammunition as a felon.

On appeal, the Ninth Circuit suppressed the bullets because the police unlawfully prolonged the traffic stop for the purpose of determining the defendant’s identity. The Court reasoned that the police may demand a driver’s identification in order to investigate the traffic violation that the driver committed. However, a traffic violation does not require investigation of a passenger’s identity. For that, the police must have reasonable suspicion that the passenger committed some other crime.

In Landeros, the police had no factual basis to believe the defendant had done anything wrong. They simply demanded his ID as a matter of routine. Therefore, the detention was unconstitutional.
In short, after Landeros, the police can ask for identification from a passenger, but she is free to refuse, and the police can do nothing about it, provided the police have no reason to believe the passenger has committed a crime.

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