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Court: refusal to identify law applies to passengers

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Although state law allows police to request identification from passengers inside a car that they’ve stopped, two Indianapolis officers shouldn’t have arrested a man for refusing to identify himself when there was no reasonable suspicion he’d done anything wrong.


The Indiana Court of Appeals addressed that issue in a six-page opinion today in Adam Starr v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-0912-CR-677, which overturned a ruling by Marion Superior Judge David Certo.


In September 2009, officers from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department arrested Adam Starr for refusing to identify himself, a Class C misdemeanor as defined by Indiana Code 34-28-5-3.5. Two officers pulled over a vehicle driven by Starr’s girlfriend, who’d made an illegal turn. After determining her identity, the officers questioned Starr about his identity. He denied having any ID, claimed he could not remember his Social Security umber, and said his name was “Mr. Horrell.”


After police found a photo ID in the vehicle, he claimed the person pictured was his “identical cousin.” Officers determined his real identify and that an active protective order prohibited any contact between Starr and his girlfriend, and police arrested him on charges of privacy invasion and refusal to identify himself. Starr was acquitted on the privacy invasion charge, but convicted on the refusal charge and received an eight-day sentence in the Marion County Jail.


On appeal, he argued that the statute criminalizing the refusal to identify oneself is directed toward the driver of a vehicle stopped for a traffic offense and not to the passengers.


The appellate court determined that the legislature had not categorically excluded passengers from the statute’s scope and that police are able to detain passengers in certain circumstances during and as a result of those stops. But this case didn’t present circumstances, such as resistance, that allowed the police conduct.


Though most will comply with an officer’s request, the police power to request and obtain this identification isn’t unlimited, the appellate court pointed out.
“In the context of a traffic stop for a vehicular violation, the Good Faith Belief statute provides for detention of a person who, in the ‘good faith’ belief of the officer, ‘has committed an infraction or ordinance violation,'" Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote.

 

“The Refusal to Identify Self statute then criminalizes the refusal to comply with an officer’s lawful request under the statute authorizing detention. In this instance, although Starr was ‘stopped’ when the vehicle in which he was a passenger was ‘stopped,’ there is no showing that Starr was stopped as a consequence of any conduct on his part. There was no reasonable suspicion that he had committed an infraction or ordinance violation, giving rise to an obligation to identify himself upon threat of criminal prosecution.”


As a result, he didn’t fall within the scope of the state statute and his conviction must be reversed, the court ruled.
 

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