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Officers Can Request Identification from Everyone in Vehicle During a Traffic Stop

I am sometimes asked to agree that passengers do not have to show identification.  In Georgia and most other states, that is not a correct statement of the law.  So, I end up disagreeing with the proposition.

I can understand why people may feel that way about it.  It seems like a passenger is not related to the purpose of the traffic stop, so they should not be drug into an interaction between the driver and the officer.  That is based on a very limited view of the traffic stop.

The mission of a traffic stop is to address the violation and to attend to related safety concerns during the stop.  When the traffic stop occurs, it is often a single officer and two or more persons alone on the side of the road.  To protect his or her safety, the officer can make certain ordinary inquiries related to the stop.  Those can certainly include an inspection of the driver's license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance and a computerized records check of that information.  The requirement to produce identification and a computerized records check of that information is not considered a search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment. 

There are a number of things that can be required to allow safe completion of the traffic stop so long as they do not unduly divert from the mission of the stop.  This can include obtaining of identification of anyone in the vehicle.  The theory is that if someone in the vehicle has outstanding warrants, that can be a safety concern for the officer.  The Georgia Supreme Court has held that officers may request and obtain identification from passengers as a part of a traffic stop.  State v. Allen, 298 Ga. 1 (2015). 

Likewise, officers are permitted to inquire about the presence of weapons in the car in order to assist in protecting officer safety. 

As part of a traffic stop, an officer may require a driver, already lawfully stopped, to exit the vehicle. Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 US 106 (1977).  Passengers may also be required to exit the vehicle.  Maryland v. Wilson, 519 US 408 (1997). 

These things may be done as a matter of routine and do not require any articulation of subjective fear by the officer.  They must be done in a reasonable amount of time.  The officer cannot stretch this process out to expand the duration of the traffic stop to allow some other investigation to proceed.  The duration of the traffic stop must be reasonable based on the reason for the stop unless probable cause develops to expand the investigation.   

In addition, OCGA §  40-5-29 requires a licensee to display his or license on demand of a law enforcement officer.  This certainly requires a driver to produce the license, but the subsection does not seem limited to licensed drivers. 

Sean A. Black

Sean A. Black is a 1992 graduate of the Emory University School of Law. He has been in private practice in Toccoa, Georgia since June 1, 1992.

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