Newly released video shows a Vallejo police officer throw a man to the ground seconds after meeting him outside a bar earlier this year, which left the man with a swollen gash on his head. Officer Rosendo Mesa had encountered the man, identified as 58-year-old Moises Bernal, outside a bar after Bernal had been kicked out on Jan. 21. Mesa arrested Bernal for alleged disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but he was not charged with a crime. This raises issues of excessive force, as well as whether reasonable suspicion existed to seize the man in the first place.
Remember the super-friendly female deputy in Camden County, Georgia, caught on her dash cam attacking a woman at a traffic stop? Well, it’s time for an update. Even after this incident, she was named “Deputy of the Month.” But then she was fired and indicted by a grand jury. But that’s not all the problems currently being faced by the Camden County Sheriff’s Office.
One of the most complicated questions I’m asked is, can a passenger in a car subject to a traffic stop refuse to provide identification to police officers, when ordered to provide it? As a common practice, police officers around the country request identification from traffic stop passengers in order to run a check for warrants. State law varies on this. And the Supreme Court hasn’t yet addressed the issue directly.
The United States Supreme Court has held that a traffic stop qualifies as a “seizure” of both the driver and any passengers, since even a passenger would conclude that an officer was “exercising control to the point that no one in the car was free to depart without police permission.” Brendlin v. California , 551 U.S. 249, 255-57, 127 S.Ct. 2400, 168 L.Ed.2d 132 (2007).
Because traffic stops are considered “a species of investigative stop rather than a formal arrest,”9 they are generally evaluated under the principles enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio and related cases. Under Terry , a traffic stop “must be temporary and [must] last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” “The stop becomes unreasonable — and thus constitutionally invalid — if the duration, manner, or scope of the investigation” exceeds “the circumstances that justified the stop in the first place.” Id. (citing Royer , 460 U.S. at 500, 103 S.Ct. 1319, and United States v. Brignoni-Ponce , 422 U.S. 873, 881, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975) ).
The basic essentials of a traffic stop are relatively easy to discern with respect to the driver. When an officer stops a driver for a traffic violation, “the officer may ask the motorist to produce routine driving documents” — including the driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. A police officer may run a computer check to verify the validity of the driver’s documents — in order to ensure that the driver is authorized to continue driving — and doing so does not generally unreasonably extend the scope or duration of a valid traffic stop. Even a warrants check for the driver may reasonably be viewed as part of the traffic stop, “as long as this check [is] done expeditiously, so as not to significantly extend the duration of the stop.”
But the rationale for these “routine” checks is significantly diminished as to a passenger who has been seized solely by virtue of being present in a vehicle subject to a traffic stop — particularly for a minor equipment violation like a dirty or non-illuminated license plate. The SCOTUS has not yet addressed whether an officer’s request for a passenger’s identification and a subsequent warrants check fall within the scope of a “routine” traffic stop, and therefore may be done without a reasonable suspicion of criminality or other particularized justification.
But over time, the United States Supreme Court has expanded the authority of police officers over both drivers and passengers during routine traffic stops. For instance, the Supreme Court has held that police officers may inquire into matters unrelated to the stop — as long as the inquiry does not unreasonably extend the stop. (CompareIllinois v. Caballes , 543 U.S. 405, 125 S.Ct. 834, 160 L.Ed.2d 842 (2005) (holding that use of a narcotics-detection dog to sniff around the exterior of motorist’s vehicle during the temporal duration of the routine traffic stop did not infringe on motorist’s Fourth Amendment rights), with Rodriguez , 575 U.S. 348, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (holding that extending an otherwise- completed traffic stop in order to conduct a dog- sniff was impermissible under the Fourth Amendment, absent reasonable suspicion); see also Arizona v. Johnson , 555 U.S. 323, 333, 129 S.Ct. 781, 172 L.Ed.2d 694 (2009) (“An officer’s inquiries into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop … do not convert the encounter into something other than a lawful seizure, so long as those inquiries do not measurably extend the duration of the stop.”); Brown , 182 P.3d at 625, 632 (recognizing that the Fourth Amendment offers little protection to motorists who consent to a request to search their vehicle, even when the officer has no reason to suspect that the motorist is carrying contraband); 4 LaFave, Search and Seizure § 9.3(b), at 510-11.)
The Court has also authorized officers to order both drivers and passengers to exit the vehicle, even absent a particularized safety concern. See Pennsylvania v. Mimms , 434 U.S. 106, 111, 98 S.Ct. 330, 54 L.Ed.2d 331 (1977) (authority under federal law to order the driver out of the car); Maryland v. Wilson , 519 U.S. 408, 410, 117 S.Ct. 882, 137 L.Ed.2d 41 (1997) (authority under federal law to order passengers out of the car).
In line with this authority, all federal circuit courts to address the issue have concluded that officers may request a passenger’s identification during a traffic stop and run a warrants check, even absent an independent basis for doing so — at least as long as doing so does not unreasonably extend the duration of the stop. See, e.g. , Fernandez , 600 F.3d at 61-62 (discussing United States v. Henderson , 463 F.3d 27, 46-47 (1st Cir. 2006) ). (SeeUnited States v. Fernandez , 600 F.3d 56, 61 (1st Cir. 2010) (“Although the [Supreme] Court has not explicitly held that an inquiry into a passenger’s identity is permissible, its precedent inevitably leads to that conclusion.” (emphasis in original)); United States v. Soriano-Jarquin , 492 F.3d 495, 500 (4th Cir. 2007) (“If an officer may ‘as a matter of course’ and in the interest of personal safety order a passenger physically to exit the vehicle, he may surely take the minimally intrusive step of requesting passenger identification.” (internal citation omitted)); see also United States v. Pack , 612 F.3d 341, 351 (5th Cir. 2010) (holding that officers do not need reasonable suspicion to ask a passenger for his or her identification during a lawful traffic stop and run a computer check on the passenger’s license and background); United States v. Smith , 601 F.3d 530, 542 (6th Cir. 2010) (same); United States v. Sanford , 806 F.3d 954, 959 (7th Cir. 2015) (same); United States v. Cloud , 594 F.3d 1042, 1044 (8th Cir. 2010) (same); United States v. Diaz-Castaneda , 494 F.3d 1146, 1152-53 (9th Cir. 2007) (same); United States v. Rice , 483 F.3d 1079, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (same); United States v. Purcell , 236 F.3d 1274, 1278-79 (11th Cir. 2001) (same). But seeUnited States v. Landeros , 913 F.3d 862, 870 (9th Cir. 2019) (holding that an officer may not order a passenger to identify himself absent particularized suspicion that he has or is engaged in criminal activity).
Several state courts have reached similar conclusions, grounding their decisions in (1) generalized concerns for officer safety;
See, e.g. , State v. Williams , 264 Ga.App. 199, 590 S.E.2d 151, 154 (2003) ; Cade v. State , 872 N.E.2d 186, 189 (Ind. App. 2007) ; State v. Martinez , 424 P.3d 83, 89-90 (Utah 2017) (collecting cases).
(2) the need to create a record of witnesses to the traffic stop;
See, e.g. , State v. Griffith , 236 Wis.2d 48, 613 N.W.2d 72, 82 (2000).
or (3) a determination that the request is simply part of (and did not unreasonably extend) the investigation into the traffic violation and does not constitute a separate Fourth Amendment event.
See, e.g. , State v. Ybarra , 156 Ariz. 275, 751 P.2d 591, 592 (Ariz. App. 1987) ; People v. Vibanco , 151 Cal. App. 4th 1, 14, 60 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1, 10-11 (Cal. App. 2007) ; People v. Bowles , 226 P.3d 1125 (Colo. App. 2009) ; Loper v. State , 8 A.3d 1169, 1173 (Del. 2010) ; People v. Harris , 228 Ill.2d 222, 319 Ill.Dec. 823, 886 N.E.2d 947 (2008) ; State v. Smith , 683 N.W.2d 542, 547-48 (Iowa 2004) ; State v. Landry , 588 So.2d 345, 345-47 (La. 1991) ; State v. Gutierrez , 9 Neb.App. 325, 611 N.W.2d 853, 858 (2000) ; Cortes v. State , 127 Nev. 505, 260 P.3d 184, 190 (2011).
Other state courts, however, have concluded that officers are prohibited from requesting identification from passengers during a traffic stop, absent reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing or some other case-specific justification beyond general officer safety concerns.
See, e.g. , People v. Spicer , 157 Cal. App. 3d 213, 221, 203 Cal. Rptr. 599, 604-05 (Cal. App. 1984) (holding that an officer unlawfully requested the passenger’s license during a traffic stop for drunk driving, where there was no indication that the passenger would be given custody of the car and the officer did not explain to the passenger his reason for requesting her driver’s license); Commonwealth v. Alvarez , 44 Mass.App.Ct. 531, 692 N.E.2d 106, 109 (1998) (holding that an officer, who testified that he asked the defendant, a vehicle passenger, for his license out of “routine practice” and without any objective basis for suspecting the passenger of wrongdoing, violated the Massachusetts Constitution); State v. Johnson , 645 N.W.2d 505, 510 (Minn. App. 2002) (holding that, in the absence of reasonable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, the officer had no authority to expand the stop by taking the passenger’s identification and running a warrants check on him); State v. Affsprung , 135 N.M. 306, 87 P.3d 1088, 1094-95 (N.M. App. 2004) (holding, under the Fourth Amendment, that a generalized concern for officer safety, without more, was insufficient to justify requesting the defendant’s identification and conducting a warrants check, where the defendant was simply a passenger in a vehicle stopped for a faulty license plate light); State v. Thompkin , 341 Or. 368, 143 P.3d 530, 534-36 (2006) (holding that the defendant, a passenger in a vehicle stopped for failing to signal a turn, was unlawfully seized under the Oregon Constitution when the officer requested and retained his identification to run a records check, without any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity); State v. Rankin , 151 Wash.2d 689, 92 P.3d 202, 206-07 (2004) (en banc) (holding that the Washington Constitution precludes officers from requesting identification from a passenger for investigative purposes, absent an independent basis for making the request).
Bodycam was just released in the case of the church deacon in Atlanta who died after being tased by a police officer, following his refusal to sign an accident citation. The video was made public at the request of his family, who viewed it in September. Arnitra Fallins, Hollman’s daughter, told NBC News that the video was “very disturbing” and that she became physically ill watching it. Her father had called her during the fatal encounter. The officer was subsequently fired. But not for the right reasons.
The Kenosha Police Department released its use of force investigation into controversial arrests of a Black couple inside an Applebee’s restaurant over the summer, with two officers involved receiving temporary suspensions. They also released the bodycam footage, for the first time.
In November 2020, 45-year-old Elisabeth Rehn was preparing for a bath when five Seattle police officers busted through her door and entered her apartment. She barely had time to throw a coat over herself when she was confronted at gunpoint by the officers. However, the officers had the wrong door, and in fact, the wrong building altogether.
One of the most common questions I get asked is, what’s the deal with the sovereign citizen videos. Do these guys ever win in court? Here’s a brand new one that just made the news in Volusia County, Florida. The bodycam footage was released by the sheriff there, showing two people arrested after claiming essentially that laws don’t apply to them as sovereign citizens. Is there anything to this?
This happened in Florida. Florida is in the 11th federal circuit. So to find the applicable federal constitutional law, you look first to the U.S. Supreme Court and then to the 11th Circuit. Then elsewhere. The federal courts in Florida and the 11th Circuit have addressed sovereign citizen arguments multiple times. One recent case out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Ford v. Antonides, issued in October of 2022, alleges basically these same facts.
There, the plaintiff, Tyree Ford, filed a pro se civil rights lawsuit from the Lee County Jail, alleging that he was unlawfully arrested after a traffic stop and seeking 2 million dollars in damages. The Court wrote that:
Instead of alleging facts showing that the stop of his car was somehow improper (leading to a claim for false arrest or false imprisonment), Plaintiff bases his claims against Defendant Antonides on an argument that he was immune from the traffic stop she initiated (and that eventually led to his arrest) because he displayed a sign on his car informing her that he was a “Traveler – Not for hire. Private Property.” (Doc. 1 at 6). This argument is similar to those espoused by self-proclaimed “sovereign citizens,” as explained in a 2019 law review article:
The most common type of Sovereign Citizen claim encountered by local and state police, as well as federal border patrol agents, is the “right to travel.” Citing the Constitution, Supreme Court cases, and a plethora of other sources, Sovereign Citizens believe they are not required to have driver’s licenses, license plates, vehicle registration, or to stop at border or sobriety checkpoints. Similar to other claims, Sovereign Citizens discussing the “right to travel” place special emphasis on the words being used.
They differentiate between a driver and a traveler; an automobile and a motor vehicle; commercial and non- commercial; and public versus private conveyances. Once a Sovereign Citizen claims that he or she is merely a traveler or traveling, he or she then uses federal and state cases to support the “right to travel.” Sovereign Citizens also believe the right to travel constitutes a complete bar on government interference with travel in the absence of probable cause or evidence that a victim has been harmed.
These types of claims-that a plaintiff is entitled to different treatment as a “sovereign citizen”-are routinely rejected by federal courts as frivolous. See, e.g., United States v. Sterling, 738 F.3d 228, 233 n.1 (11th Cir. 2013) (noting that so-called “sovereign citizens” are individuals who believe they are not subject to courts’ jurisdiction and that courts have summarily rejected their legal theories as frivolous); United States v. Benabe, 654 F.3d 753, 761-67 (7th Cir. 2011) (describing the conduct of a “sovereign citizen” and collecting cases rejecting the group’s claims as frivolous, and recommending that “sovereign citizen” arguments “be rejected summarily, however they are presented.”); Reed v. Jones, No. 4:21CV3051, 2021 WL 2913023, at *3 (D. Neb. July 12, 2021) (“sovereign citizen” argument that motor-vehicle registration and licensing laws do not apply to plaintiff rejected as frivolous); Trevino v. Florida, 687 Fed.Appx. 861, 862 (11th Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (affirming dismissal of 1983 action based on sovereign citizens as frivolous and noting that if those theories challenged the conviction, habeas was the proper avenue of relief).
Nothing alleged in Plaintiff’s complaint even remotely suggests that he is entitled to relief against Defendant Antonides under recognized theories of relief. And, as noted, Plaintiff’s sovereign citizen argument has been soundly rejected by federal courts. Accordingly, all claims against Defendant Antonides are dismissed from this action as frivolous and for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), (ii).
There are many more cases just like this using a lot of the same language. Every one of them dismissing the arguments as frivolous and quickly moving on. And that’s just the 11th Circuit. It’s the same around the country.
So to answer your question, no there’s nothing to it. That’s not to say that I don’t think that Thomas Jefferson is rolling in his grave at the idea of the government requiring license plates and licenses to operate his carriage. But it’s the reality we live in.
Police officers arrived at a gym on a noise complaint. The gym owner expressed his displeasure at the officers’ presence. As they started to detain him, he went back into his gym and told the officers they could not enter. But they did enter and tased him and took him to the ground, and arrested him. Here’s the issue. The Fourth Amendment does not allow police to go inside your home and arrest you without a warrant. But what about your business? Did they need a warrant under the Fourth Amendment to arrest this gym owner?
You’ve seen videos of cops executing warrants at the wrong home before. It’s a nightmare scenario – one of the most dangerous encounters we can have with our government. Police want the ability to come into a house with a team of men dressed and equipped like soldiers. But they also want to do so in an environment of total immunity, so that they can’t be sued when they make mistakes or act recklessly.
This just happened in Joliet, Illinois, where law enforcement invaded the wrong home. It also recently happened in my client in West Virginia. They came home to find cops on their surveillance footage walking around in their home, guns drawn. What happens when they invade the wrong home? Can you sue them, or can they get away with it?
A LaSalle, Colorado police officer has been charged with second degree murder after he shot a man in a dollar store parking lot, during an investigation about a car’s suspicious paint job. It was the officer’s third day of training with that police department. Can a police officer shoot a man attempting to flee a suspicious paint job investigation?