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Police Given Broad Leeway in Determining Validity of IDs

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From Associated Press

Drivers or passengers stopped for minor violations can be arrested and searched if they fail to produce satisfactory written identification, a state appeals court has said.

In a 2-1 ruling released Thursday, the 1st District Court of Appeal said police have broad leeway to decide whether identification is “satisfactory,” and do not have to accept oral assurances.

Dissenting Justice Jerome Smith said police should be required to question those who fail to produce a license or other written document, and give them a reasonable opportunity to identify themselves.

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The ruling, in a case from Oakland, involved a state law that requires police to arrest minor traffic violators who cannot produce a driver’s license or “other satisfactory evidence of . . . identification.”

The person is then searched and taken before a magistrate for booking before being released. Those with proper identification are normally ticketed at the scene and released after signing a promise to appear in court or pay a fine. The rationale for the law is that a written promise to appear is meaningless if police are unsure of the person’s identity.

The defendant, William Erik Monroe, was a passenger in a car that was stopped in December, 1990, by Oakland police, who thought they recognized a homicide suspect. Officers decided Monroe was not the suspect, but saw an open bottle of beer in front of him and asked him for identification.

According to varying police accounts, Monroe replied that he had no identification or had none with him, the court said. Police then took him into custody, searched him and found rock cocaine. He was convicted of possession for sale and sentenced to five years in prison.

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