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Refusing Cop's Request for ID Wasn't Cause for Arrest

by Dale Chappell


A Stafford County, Virginia, ordinance requiring someone to show their ID to a police officer if requested did not allow an arrest if the person refused to show his ID. That was the court's conclusion in a federal lawsuit filed after a Stafford County Sheriff's Deputy stopped to help a stranded motorist and requested to see some ID. When the man refused, he was arrested.

The exchange after the request for ID happened like this:

Citizen: "Have I committed a crime?"

Officer: "No. I didn't say you did."

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

Officer: "You're not free to go until you identify yourself to me."

He was promptly arrested after he still refused to show some ID. Stafford County has an ordinance requiring someone to show ID to an officer, "if the surrounding circumstances are such as to indicate to a reasonable man that the public safety requires such identification." The officer here said that he found the man "suspicious" and was wearing dark clothing, justifying the request for ID. Addressing the appeal of the lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit acknowledged that an officer may always request ID from someone during a voluntary encounter. "But they may not compel it by threat of criminal sanction." If the man had been lawfully detained, the court said, he would have been required to show ID. But he wasn't.

While it seems he may have won his lawsuit, the court nevertheless had to dismiss it under the doctrine of qualified immunity. That's because no court had ever held that the exact conduct the officer engaged in, though clearly wrong, was illegal. That meant the officer cold not have been held liable for his actions, no matter how wrong they were, absent some prior decision putting him on notice that his acts were wrong, the court said.


Source:; Wingate v. Fulford, 987 F.3d 299 (4th Cir. 2021)

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Wingate v. Fulford



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