Decision by Fifth Circuit: Vehicle Passengers’ Arrest for Refusing to Provide Identification Violates 4th Amendment

A recent case, Johnson v. Thibodaux City, 887 F.3d 726 (5thCir. 2018) should be of interest to law enforcement as to the limits of what an officer can demand of an individual.

Johnson v. Thibodaux City – The Background

Officers of the Thibodaux Police Department recognized a driver of a truck, Latisha Robertson, as having an outstanding warrant. They stopped the truck, asked Robertson to exit and handcuffed her. There were several passengers in the vehicle including two individuals who refused to identify themselves, instead, simply sitting in the vehicle and using their cell phones. The officers arrested the passengers for resisting an officer by refusing to identify themselves during the course of a lawful detention, an alleged violation of Louisiana Revised Statute 14:108. That statute requires an “arrested or detained party” to provide identification only when the officers make a “lawful arrest” or a “lawful detention”.

The Lawsuit and the Court’s Findings

The passengers later filed suit against the police department for the alleged unlawful arrest. The Court noted that under the Fourth Amendment, police officers may not require identification absent an otherwise lawful detention or arrest based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause. The Court first assessed whether the initial stop was justified. It was, as it was to affect the arrest of Robertson, the driver who had an outstanding warrant.

Secondly, the Court determined whether the officer’s subsequent actions were reasonably related in scope to the circumstances that justified the stop. There was no basis to continue the detention of the occupants solely to obtain identification because there were no facts developed during the justified portion of the stop that would give reason for requesting identification of the passengers.

In the case, the officers who asked for the passengers’ identification explicitly testified that they had no suspicion of ongoing or future criminal activity. As such, there was no basis for the officers to conclude that there was any alleged violation of Revised Statute 14:108 for failure to produce identification.

The Court remanded for further consideration of qualified immunity and possibly damages, on the unlawful arrest claims of the passengers.

The Upshot

Based on this decision by the Fifth Circuit, police officers can’t arrest a person for refusal to produce identification if there is no reasonable suspicion of a crime on the part of the individual who won’t produce identification.

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