Fourth Amendment

An Unconstitutional Arrest for Refusing To Show ID to the Cops

Fourth Amendment advocates prevail in Wingate v. Fulford.

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In an important win for Fourth Amendment advocates, a Virginia man's arrest for refusing to show identification to the police has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal appellate court.

The case is Wingate v. Fulford. George Wingate was driving in Stafford County, Virginia, in the early morning hours of April 25, 2017, when his car's engine light came on. A former mechanic, Wingate pulled over, popped the hood, and began checking things out. Stafford County Sheriff's Deputy Scott Fulford, who happened to be cruising by, noticed the parked vehicle and pulled over to offer his assistance.

That's when things took a turn for the worse for Wingate. According to the deputy's account, he became suspicious of Wingate and demanded to see some form of identification. Wingate, who had done nothing wrong, flatly refused. The officer's mic captured their exchange of words:

Wingate: Have I committed a crime?

Fulford: No. I didn't say you did.

Wingate: All right then.

Fulford: You're still required to—

Wingate: Am I free to go?

Fulford: —identify yourself.

Wingate: Am I free to go?

Fulford: Not right now, no.

Wingate: Am I being detained?

Fulford: You're not detained.

Wingate: Am I free to go?

Fulford: No.

Wingate: Am I being detained? If I'm not being detained, then I'm free to go.

Fulford: You're not free to go until you identify yourself to me.

Wingate was ultimately arrested for violating a Stafford County ordinance that made it a crime to refuse an officer's request for ID "if the surrounding circumstances are such as to indicate to a reasonable man that the public safety requires such identification." After the prosecutor dropped the charges, Wingate sued, arguing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the unlawful detainment and arrest.

In a decision handed down last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit agreed that Wingate's rights were violated. "To be sure, officers may always request someone's identification during a voluntary encounter," the court said. "But they may not compel it by threat of criminal sanction. Allowing a county to criminalize a person's silence outside the confines of a valid seizure would press our conception of voluntary encounters beyond its logical limits. We therefore decline to do so here."

If Wingate had been lawfully detained by the police, the 4th Circuit said, then the officer could require him to show ID. But that was not what happened here. In fact, as the 4th Circuit detailed, the case for detaining and arresting Wingate utterly failed to pass the smell test. For example, Deputy Fulford stated in a deposition that Wingate raised a "red flag" for him when Wingate exited his vehicle and approached the officer's cruiser. "But the notion that the driver of a broken-down vehicle creates suspicion of criminal activity by approaching the officer trying to render him aid, put candidly, defies reason," the 4th Circuit observed. "Although we generally defer to officers' training and experience, we withhold that deference when failing to do so would erode necessary safeguards against 'arbitrary and boundless' police prejudgments."

Likewise, the fact that Wingate was wearing all-black clothing was deemed "suspicious." Yet as the 4th Circuit noted, "wearing dark clothing is often as innocuous as following the latest fashion trends" and was no grounds for probable cause in Wingate's case.

One downside to the ruling from the standpoint of criminal justice reform is that Deputy Fulford was granted qualified immunity for Wingate's unlawful arrest. Under that controversial doctrine, government officials are generally shielded from being held civilly liable if their actions were not explicitly disavowed in a previous court decision. "Until today, no federal court has prescribed the constitutional limits of" the Virginia ordinance at issue, the 4th Circuit stated. Thus "a reasonable officer could infer—albeit incorrectly—that the [Fourth Amendment's] requirements did not apply."

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  1. “wearing dark clothing is often as innocuous as following the latest fashion trends”

    I guess Stafford County, Va. hasn’t heard the news: black is the new black.

    1. The officer was only trying to make Wingate see the faux pas of his fashion by inviting him to try on Orange as the new Black.

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      2. When are the politicians going to defund the Capitol police? Oh I forgot never…..

    2. Yet oddly enough all officers are outfitted in black gear. If that’s suspicious then so are they.

      1. WE HAVE SET BACK FAR TOO LONG AND LET OUR POLICE BECOME MORE AND MORE MILITARIZED. NEVER SHOULD WE HAVE STOOD BY AND LET OUR FEDERAL ELECTED OFFICIALS GIVE SURPLUS MILITARY GEAR TO OUR LAW ENFORCEMENT. GIVE THEM MILITARY GEAR AND THEY WILL ACT MORE AND MORE LIKE AN OCCUPYING FORCE AS OPPOSED TO PEACE OFFICERS.

        1. Which is EXACTLY what the elite want.

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        2. Mindless Republican voter detected…

          1. Partisan boot licker confirmed.

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  2. One downside to the ruling from the standpoint of criminal justice reform is that Deputy Fulford was granted qualified immunity for Wingate’s unlawful arrest.

    Which means he’ll keep on illegally arresting people for failing to follow an unlawful command.

    1. Sometimes the courts don’t even get to the (un)constitutionality when granting QI, but this time they did so he wouldn’t get QI for doing the same thing again. Granted, the court could probably find some way to grant it by determining the situations aren’t EXACTLY the same.

      1. QI would only be dropped if Fulford arrests Wingate again for the same thing. Other cops can do it, and Fulford can do it to other people.

    2. The court found that Wingate’s rights were violated, so that officer — and every other one in the 4th Circuit — are on notice, and will not get qualified immunity in the future. At least for sufficiently identical fact patterns.

      1. What does sufficiently identical mean? Must the person whose rights were violated be wearing dark clothing?

        1. You were a whiny bitch and your whining was wrong so have some decorum and shut the fuck up.

          1. You’re asking too much of him.

        2. It means their name is George Wingate and they are wearing dark clothing in front of a broken down car at night on Apr 25, 2017. Everything else is a totally unique and new situation.

        3. That is the problem, of course. Courts regularly find stupidly narrow reasons to distinguish one abuse of official authority from previously established law. A Section 1983 case is extremely hard to win because few cases end up being that close — when it is, the city or state usually figures out quickly and settles instead.

    3. In fairness, this court (unlike many others) did get to the underlying matter after granting qualified immunity. So at least in this jurisdiction, it will be illegal going forward to arrest people for failing to follow an unlawful command – at least, if it follows this exact fact pattern.

      1. So at least in this jurisdiction, it will be illegal going forward to arrest people for failing to follow an unlawful command – at least, if it follows this exact fact pattern.

        By illegal do you mean the officer opens themselves up for a civil suit (the damages of which the officer will not pay personally, nor will the officer’s employment be affected), or do you mean criminal charges? I’m thinking the former.

    4. Really? Your fuckup resulted in the county having to take your case to the 4th Circuit to try and unfuck your mistake, and you think that just because a level of the court system refrained from removing the officer’s qualified immunity, the officer is going to skate like nothing happened? Do you think the county attorneys that worked on that case before the 4th Circuit, work for free? (It’s worse if they needed to hire co-counsel, who definitely don’t work for free.) It’s coming out of someone’s budget.

      Or don’t have a dozen other things they need to be doing besides trying to get the county’s ass out of the sling the officer may have put it in? Who insures the county for the torts its employees commit? How happy are they about Officer Papers Please, and the prospect of getting civilly sued for his tortious behavior? The point is, there are a bunch of bad things that can happen to both the officer and his employer, despite qualified immunity being granted to the officer. And this officer should feel a bit of pain, for being so much of a prick that this got to be a federal case.

      That said, sometimes it seemingly does take a hard rap with a stick to the head to get the cops to ‘stop doing that shit!’ (Thinking of the Texas DPS genius who thought of doing a cavity search for dope—by the side of the highway. Getting the outcry from that disaster, and then doing it again a few months later…)

      1. It’s not easy to determine if the citizen you want to abuse will take it and move on or file a complaint. Sometime the cops get it wrong.

    5. Actually, they only partially granted that officer qualified immunity. They found that he didn’t deserve it for the stop, just for the arrest.

      Which may seem odd, but they did an OK job of explaining their reasoning. And, as others have noted, they did at least go as far as to find both the stop AND the arrest in violation of the 4th amendment, which is something.

    6. Not necessarily! The law of averages says he’ll do it to the wrong one one day and will proceed to get the brakes beat off of him. He’ll be left laying in a moaning, bloody heap and will have richly earned it.

      1. There is no law of averages. Events with a zero probability can easily occur, as textbooks on probability try to make stick everywhere every day.

  3. A man has been indicted and is facing ten years in federal prison for posting memes.

    Any thoughts Reason?

    1. A MAGA shitposter has no rights a neolibertarian magazine is bound to respect.

      1. So the far left shitbag thinks it’s ok to lock people up for memes.

    2. If anyone out there is truly stupid enough to believe that legal ballots could have been cast via text message or a social media hash tag, then the dope falling for it should be the one going to jail; not the one who posted the meme.

  4. Am I free to go?
    [punch]
    Am I being detained>
    [kick]
    Am I free to go?
    [punch][punch]
    Am I free to go?
    [punch][punch] Stop resisting [kick]

    1. I oppose qualified immunity.
      [BANG][BANG][BANG][BANG][BANG][BANG][BANG][BANG]

      1. Do you oppose qualified immunity now? [Bang] [Bang] [BANG]!!!

  5. Mr. Root….Congrats on your being banned from Twitter.

    1. Was it one of those secret bans?

      https://twitter.com/damonroot

  6. Wingate was ultimately arrested for violating a Stafford County ordinance that made it a crime to refuse an officer’s request for ID

    I’m assuming that suing Stafford County is out of the question?

    1. Wonder what would happen in the People’s Republic of NJ….

      The dialogue between cop and ‘not a perp’ was hilarious.

  7. I was arrested for exactly this in Minnesota in 2015.

    Standing in a public park, with other people. Refused to show my ID to a police officer. Asked same questions, and ended up cuffed in back of cruiser.

    Still dealing with this 6 years later.

    1. And, lemme guess… still wasting votes on looter Kleptocracy candidates?

  8. Likewise, the fact that Wingate was wearing all-black clothing was deemed “suspicious.”

    * laughs in Johnny Cash *

  9. Interesting (and useful case). In Hiibel v Nevada, there had been a crime and there was some grounds for expecting that Hiibel might have been the perpetrator. This one is great since there was no such grounds for an ID demand. Let’s hope…..

  10. Exactly when will this Qualified Impunity receive it’s well deserved quietus. When will it be ‘put to bed’, permanently?

    If I may, I will pose a question here. At some time in the future tomorrow or 20 years hence, Mr. Wingate happens to be the only witness to a serious criminal act. Obviously, the police would want the benefit of his eye witness testimony. Might the well have been poisoned by his previous experience with law enforcement? If it turned out that that was the case, who could blame Mr. Wingate?

  11. It’s 2021 and your masters are still corrupt or dumber than dog shit.

  12. “”Although we generally defer to officers’ training and experience,……”

    I think I found a problem.

  13. Wingate: Am I being detained?

    Fulford: You’re not detained.

    Wingate: Am I free to go?

    Fulford: No.

    The cop wanted to arrest/beat him for fleeing/loitering.

    1. Any police officer uttering that sequence of statements should be summarily fired.

  14. The dialogue between Mr. Wingate and the officer, or something similar to it, is something I’ve been experiencing on a regular basis since 2008:

    https://vimeo.com/showcase/6120306/video/348174220

    Most recently, these encounters evolved into a three year running lawsuit after the Border Patrol decided to allow county deputies to participate in the interactions & decided that not answering agent questions was the same as obstructing a highway despite stopping in front of two stop signs and being detained by a federal agent:

    https://www.roadblockrevelations.org/wp/between-a-stonegarden-a-hard-place/

  15. Search “First Amendment Auditors” on YouTube for lots of video revolving around filming public buildings, police activity, and private property from public locations.

    Some of the contributors are pretty good, such as Audit the Audit, Amagansett Press, and Bay Area Transparency.

    1. I recently watched an Audit the Audit video about a guy refusing an unconstitutional search at an agricultural inspection station when entering California. AtA said it was actually legal because the state called it an “administrative inspection” instead of a search. So, I’m not overly impressed with Audit the Audit.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YARMZsFFCM

  16. A small piece of good news in an era where liberties are being attached relentlessly.

  17. So Wingate was driving his car when the check engine light came on. Funny I thought that I was required to show my DRIVER’S LICENSE any time I’m operating a motor vehicle. Along side a road or street that isn’t in front of my house is operating a motor vehicle.

    1. No it is not.

    2. IANAL, but pretty sure there must be a reason to ask for your driver’s license (but that’s a low bar – prove you DIDN’T cross the yellow line back there)

    3. Nope. Only for a valid stop.

      And only if you’re actually operating the motor vehicle – not standing in front of it with the hood open.

      Along side a road or street that isn’t in front of my house is operating a motor vehicle.

      Not anywhere in the United States it isn’t.

  18. for all those who are offended by qualified immunity we can all get out our checkbooks and grease the Institute for Justice. that crazy bullshit will NOT end until the courts stomp on it. it will not come by way of legislation…both parties have no spine for such activities. they have no fear of filing suits and that’s the ONLY way this shit ends

    1. Another Republican schaistposter desperately trying to talk libertarians out of voting libertarian. How original.

      1. Huh?

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