This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The Utah Supreme Court has ruled that police are allowed to ask for passengers' identification and run a background check on them during a traffic stop even without suspecting criminal activity.
In a 5-0 decision last week, justices overturned a 2014 district court ruling that argued such police actions were "beyond the scope of a routine traffic stop."
The ruling stems from a case involving Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Jeremy Horne, who stopped a car for an improper lane change. Horne collected IDs and ran a background check on the driver and the passenger, George Matthew Martinez Jr.
The trooper discovered Martinez had a warrant out for his arrest. He then found Martinez had a glass pipe with methamphetamine residue on it, the ruling stated.
Martinez was charged with possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. But Martinez fought the charge by arguing in district court that Horne had violated his Fourth Amendment rights when he went beyond the original purpose of the traffic stop and conducted an illegal seizure.
Martinez argued that Horne asked for his ID without reasonable suspicion that Martinez did something wrong and the evidence the trooper subsequently discovered should therefore be suppressed.
The lower court ruled in Martinez's favor. The Utah attorney general's office appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.
In the ruling, Justice John Pearce wrote that the case is about a single question: "Does a law enforcement officer violate the Fourth Amendment if she requests that a passenger voluntarily provide identification and then runs a background check on that passenger without reasonable suspicion that the passenger has committed or is about to commit a crime?"
The court concluded that an officer does not violate the Constitution if he or she asks for a passenger's identification. Factors in the court's decision included an officer's safety during a stop and whether asking for the identification of a passenger significantly lengthens the duration of the stop, or "detention." Pearce also pointed out that Martinez provided the identification voluntarily after being asked.
"An officer may request that a passenger provide identification," Pearce wrote in conclusion. "Here, Trooper Horne's seconds-long extension of a lawful traffic stop did not unreasonably prolong the detention."