Question: A couple of weeks ago, I was stopped by an officer for having a stoplight out. The officer asked for my license (understandable as I was the driver) and then asked for my wife’s ID. I am wondering why he would ask to see a passenger’s ID and if she was legally required to present it to him.
Answer: The Courts have held that an officer may ask a passenger for identification during a traffic stop, but whether the passenger is obligated to identify him or herself depends upon the reason for the stop. If the only reason for the stop is a traffic infraction committed by the driver, the officer may ask a passenger for identification, but the passenger is not obligated to provide it. If however, the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the occupants of a vehicle may be involved in illegal activity, then both the drivers and the passenger(s) are the subject of the investigative detention. For example, if the vehicle was stopped because it matches the description of a vehicle fleeing the scene of a crime, the officer may ask questions to determine whether or not criminal activity is afoot; including ascertaining the identity of the vehicle occupants. Officers routinely ask people for identification during encounters that go beyond casual contact. They frequently find wanted people or the information may become key to an investigation at a later date. It doesn’t necessarily mean the officer suspects the person of wrongdoing, but it’s not unusual for a case to be solved because an officer made note of encountering a particular person at a particular place and time.