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Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer > Blog > Federal Crime > Do You Have to Identify Yourself to a Police Officer?

Do You Have to Identify Yourself to a Police Officer?


When a police officer in Florida initiates a traffic stop, they can require the driver to identify themselves by demanding to see their driver’s license. But what about other people inside of the vehicle? Can the police demand to know the identity of a passenger? And if the passenger refuses, are they committing a crime?

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Florida Deputy

A recent decision from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Johnson v. Dunn, addressed these questions. This case did not directly involve a criminal prosecution. Rather, it involved a person who sued a Florida sheriff’s deputy alleging federal civil rights violations that occurred as a result of a prior arrest.

The basic facts are simple. The deputy initiated a traffic stop because he observed a possible traffic violation–specifically, an obscured license tag. The plaintiff was a passenger in the stopped vehicle. The deputy asked the plaintiff if he had his identification on him. The plaintiff replied that since he was a passenger he “was not required to identify himself.” The deputy replied the plaintiff was required to identify himself under Florida law.

When the plaintiff still refused to identify himself, the deputy arrested and charged the plaintiff with violation Section 843.02 of the Florida Statutes, which makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to resist an officer “without violence.”

The plaintiff’s subsequent civil rights lawsuit alleged the deputy’s actions violated the Fourth Amendment. The deputy replied he was entitled to “qualified immunity,” a judicially created rule that grants government officials immunity from civil lawsuits when they perform certain discretionary acts. Qualified immunity does not apply, however, when a government official violates a “clearly established” constitutional right.

Although a federal district judge refused to dismiss the plaintiff’s lawsuit on qualified immunity grounds, the 11th Circuit reversed. The appellate court explained that “In Florida, a passenger, like the vehicle’s driver, expects to be asked for identification” as a “precautionary measure to protect officer safety.” This was consistent with binding U.S. Supreme Court precedent, which requires judges to “balance” a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights against the public interest in protecting officer safety. So even if the plaintiff here was unaware of the fact that Florida law expected passengers to identify themselves, the deputy was still entitled to dismissal of the lawsuit.

The 11th Circuit did not, however, directly conclude that the plaintiff’s arrest for resisting an officer without violence was legal. Rather, the Court observed that it was unlikely the Florida Supreme Court “would hold that a passenger is free to resist an officer’s request for identification in the setting the case presents.”

Contact the Joshi Law Firm Today

If you are arrested and charged with any crime during a traffic stop, remember that you have the right to seek representation from an experienced Orlando federal crimes defense attorney who can advise you of your rights and represent your interests in court. Contact the Joshi Law Firm, PA, today to schedule a free consultation.




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