Officers Are Not Allowed to Ask for Passenger Identification Unless They Believe the Passenger Is Also Committing a Crime.
Appellate Docket No.: A-4752-17
Decided September 16, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent published opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reversed a conviction for an improper request for identification of a passenger in a vehicle, leading to the finding of warrants and cocaine on his person.
In State v. Boston, police conducted a random license plate inquiry, finding the driver and owner of a vehicle had a suspended license and warrants out for their arrest. Upon conducting the stop, the police confirmed defendant’s wife indeed had outstanding warrants and was arrested. Because the defendant and his wife had children in the vehicle, the police asked if defendant could take the vehicle. Defendant responded he did not have a license and only a State I.D. Police requested to see the State I.D. and ran defendant’s information to find out he had warrants as well. A search incident to arrest revealed cocaine on his person.
Defendant was charged with third degree possession of CDS. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, but his motion was denied. The jury convicted him, and the judge sentenced him to a discretionary extended prison term of seven years with three-and-a-half years of parole ineligibility.
Defendant appealed arguing, in part, that the request for defendant’s State I.D. was improper, as police had no basis to request such information. The Appellate Division agreed, finding that there was no reasonable suspicion defendant was violating the law, as he was just a passenger in the vehicle. It was reasonable for the officers to ask for a driver’s license to confirm its validity since they were turning the vehicle over to the defendant. However, as soon as the officers received information that the defendant did not have a license and only a State I.D., they were prohibited from asking for it, as there was no basis for a further inquiry without a suspicion of criminal activity. The Court reversed defendant’s conviction.
This case is important to understand the scope of a police investigation. Here, a traffic stop was conducted after a lawful random search of a license plate. The finding of warrants and a suspended license allowed the officers to conduct a motor vehicle stop. The officers are allowed to ask for driver identification during a stop. The officers are not allowed to ask for passenger identification unless they believe the passenger is also committing a crime. Here, because defendant was not believed to have committed any sort of crime, the request for his State I.D. was invalid. Officers must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or traffic offense to request identification and conduct motor vehicle stops. Without such, any evidence seized as a result of a search – here cocaine – would be suppressed.
If you or someone you know have been charged with any indictable offense or disorderly persons involving a search and/or questioning of police, contact the experienced attorney at Hark & Hark to ensure you are adequately defended, otherwise you could have negative impacts on your case like the defendant above.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest.
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