Law

Refusing To Show ID Is Not a Crime

George Wingate, who had pulled over on the side of the road to check an engine light, flatly refused to show his ID when a sheriff's deputy demanded it.

|

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. 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 microphone captured their exchange.

"Have I committed a crime?" Wingate demanded.

"No. I didn't say you did," the officer replied.

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

"You're not free to go until you identify yourself to me," the officer declared.

Wingate ultimately was 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 a local prosecutor dropped the charge, Wingate sued, arguing that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the bogus detention and arrest.

In February, 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 in Wingate v. Fulford. "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, the 4th Circuit said, the officer could have required him to show ID. But as the court detailed, Fulford had neither the "reasonable and particularized suspicion" needed to detain Wingate nor the "probable cause" needed to arrest him.

Fulford stated in a deposition that Wingate raised a "red flag" when he 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 appeals court 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."

Fulford also deemed Wingate's all-black clothing "suspicious." Yet as the 4th Circuit noted, "wearing dark clothing is often as innocuous as following the latest fashion trends."

The only downside to the ruling is that the deputy was granted qualified immunity for Wingate's arrest. Under that controversial doctrine, state officials are routinely shielded from civil liability if their actions were not explicitly condemned in a previous court decision. "Until today," the 4th Circuit said, "no federal court has prescribed the constitutional limits" of the ordinance Fulford cited. Thus, "a reasonable officer could infer—albeit incorrectly—that the [Fourth Amendment's] requirements did not apply."

NEXT: Brickbat: The Long Arm of the University

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Now do COVID vaccine passports. Oh wait, I forgot, those are totally fake. That’s why you can board a train, bus, or airplane anytime you want without one.

    1. The officer should have just asked to see his vaccine passport, stating he feared for his safety from the deadly China Virus.

      1. Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings are much better than regular office job and even a little child can SADAS do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
        on this page…..VISIT HERE

  2. At least this incident of qualified immunity is not completely irrational to the point of psychopathy. There was actually an ordinance in place that made it a crime to refuse to present ID. That’s not really on the officer, as he did not write nor past the ordinance.

    Rather than qualified immunity, this incident points out the ridiculous outcomes of our courts’ requirements of standing. The way these rules have been created, laws like this are allowed to continue for far too long. The courts require a specific injury before they will even consider the case. This law was clearly unconstitutional on its face, And there should be a mechanism for the courts to step in and say so before this guy has a jack boot on his neck.

    1. Also, at least the court declared it was unconstitutional going forward, unlike a lot of similarly situated courts which hand out QI without ever ruling on the constitutionality of the behavior.

  3. Refusing To Show ID Is Not a Crime

    It is in Georgia. I’m assuming it’s the same in other jurisdictions as well. There’s a law that requires you to show your driver’s license upon demand to a law enforcement officer and I guess you’re fucked if you don’t have a driver’s license.

    1. Is that anywhere or just when operating a motor vehicle on a public road?

      1. Ha-ha! It falls under the operation of a motor vehicle, but the relevant section does not specify “while operating a motor vehicle” so it’s what the cops use as “the law” that requires you to show ID upon demand. Apparently, cops will drop the charges if you challenge them so that no courts have ever gotten involved in the matter.

        1. And therein lies the rub, they will still arrest you thereby putting you in the system. You get to see the inside of the jail and all that entails. After which they drop the charges and give you a sorry for the trouble. And if during this time you miss work and lose your job too bad for you.

          1. The process is the punishment.

            1. +1 ride

        2. You’re referring to O.C.G.A. § 40-5-29(b), correct? Just so others can see what this is about.

    2. And I thought that the SCOTUS had already definitively declared that it *is* a crime to not show ID in Hiibel.

      1. Not quite, you do have to identify yourself but you are not required to show ID. However it is a crime to give false ID so if you make up a name and address they gotcha.

        1. Ah, ok. Thanks!

      2. Hiibel requires the statute to include reasonable suspicion of a crime. In this case the court ruled specifically that no reasonable suspicion existed.

      3. in Hibel there was a reasonable suspicion that plaintiff might have been a person the cops were looking for, i.e. Hibel was no just some schmuk in the wrong place at the wrong time (in this case).

        Trying to make sure some damned electronic system isn’t about to trash your car on the side of the road is rather different, and a quite reasonable thing to be doing (having had the asinine thing light up on me on my previous chariot).

    3. Did you bother to read the article. There was a law requiring it in Stafford County – and it was unconstitutional. It’s equally unconstitutional in Georgia.

      Assuming you’re not driving a car, that is. So if a cop pulls you over while driving, he/she can demand to see your license. In the instance above, the person whose identity was being demanded was not driving but was working on the car at the side of the road.

      Yeah, the distinction is based on the stupid fiction that “driving is a privilege, not a right” but we’re stuck with that for now.

      1. It is not unconstitutional in Georgia because Georgia is in a different federal circuit court (11th). This gives a lot of juice to anyone who wants to challenge the Georgia law, but as of right now, the law remains constitutional until the 11th or SC say otherwise.

      2. The cop cannot pull you over without reasonable suspicion you have committed an offense.

  4. I still need to show an ID to get into a teacher’s union event or a Biden fund-raising function.
    There are some YT channels dedicated to “trolling” LEOs with Constitutional compliance. One is called Audit the Auditors.

  5. “Although we generally defer to officers’ training and experience ….”
    Judges never should do so and, even though they often say they do, they actually don’t. Instead, they take the word of officers regarding their “training and experience,” usually as an easy way to protect the officers. In reality, judges have no way of knowing what an arresting officer’s experience has been. No one seriously investigates such matters and presents them to a court.

    1. Furthermore, they only do so if the training favors the officer’s case. See Frasier v Evans. There they said being trained that a is unconstitutional isn’t sufficient to let a “reasonable” officer know it was unconstitutional due to the magic of not being “clearly established” by a court.

    2. +1 ambiguity

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

    And here silly old me thought the courts were supposed to defer to the US Constitution.

      1. SMH… sigh…

  7. So qualified immunity applies whenever cops do something that hasn’t been explicitly disapproved by the courts yet those courts aren’t inclined to disapprove cops behavior because it wasn’t previously disallowed?

    Shouldn’t this case be ground for removal of QI for all cops going forward given the statements about the wrong interpretation of the 4th amendment implications?

    1. Yes. QI is a ridiculous doctrine the courts conjured from thin air. It flies directly in the face of the very statute it presumably addresses.

      1. +1 Bill of Rights

  8. He should have just said that he was voting, since it’s horribly racist to ask people for ID when voting. Then the cop would have run off and scourged himself with the lash.

    1. +1 Name of the Rose

  9. Wait wait wait. If we don’t make people carry ID, how will we find all those illegal invader scum stealing jobs and mooching on welfare?

    1. Stand and the border and wait, jackass.

      1. What about stopping literally everyone on the interstate 99 miles from a border and demanding their papers?

        1. +1 unconstitutional detainment

    2. Other than strawmen comments, I’m not sure any here oppose foreign labor. As for the welfare issue, some of us advocate for ending the welfare state. Others support only US citizens being eligible. And that would require documentation. At the welfare office. Not walking down a street.
      When I last visited Mexico, my visa indicated that I must have that and my passport with me at all times and I was subject to presenting it if requested.

      1. “Other than strawmen comments”

        Why do you want to silence Jeff?

      2. +1 possible, but never happened. I’ve been to Mexico more than a hundred or more times because I was stationed in San Diego.

  10. “To be sure, officers may always request someone’s identification during a voluntary encounter,” the court said in Wingate v. Fulford.

    Robby’s on the Court now?

    1. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that cops can request any information, they just cannot compel production.

      1. To be sure.

      2. “Do I have to answer this question?” has been asked in some recorded LEO interactions. Most of the cops knew that there were not obligated to get an answer. But they could still detain.

  11. >>”wearing dark clothing is often as innocuous as following the latest fashion trends.”

    black is the new black

  12. Could we have a link to the 4th Circuit’s opinion?

  13. “Thus, “a reasonable officer could infer—albeit incorrectly—that the [Fourth Amendment’s] requirements did not apply.”

    Yeah, because an understanding of the supremacy clause is too much to expect from a cop. How does a cop uphold their oath to a state and federal constitution when them don’t even know which one is controlling.

  14. Refusing To Show ID Is Not a Crime; yet. But the democrats are working on it.
    Vaccine passports first, then expand to everything but voting.

  15. Driving without a license? Do you own the car or have the owner’s permission? Are you insured to drive this car?
    If the driver can’t show proof, the officer must arrest and take them in.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.