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A few nights ago I was on my way to my studio with a friend for our regular Friday evening band rehearsal.  As is our custom we stopped at a market near the studio and picked up some beer and a couple of fresh tamales.  I noted with no interest that a Sheriff's car was parked next to my friend's pickup truck.

With my friend driving, we pulled out of the parking lot, the Sheriff's car not far behind.  We hadn't gone more than a few hundred yards before the lights came on.  We were "jacked" in the parlance of my employees.

It wasn't clear why.  "You were going kinda fast there buddy. and you made an unsafe lane change."  All in a couple of hundred yards, knowing the police were right behind us.  The "lane change" was from a right-turn only lane to the through lane.

Responding to the deputy's request, my friend produced the required documents, license, registration and insurance.  Then the deputy turned his attention to me.  "Sir, do you have some identification I can see?"   [Note the weasel words.  It was not phrased as a "demand" but as a question.]


The deputy was taken aback.  "You don't have any identification?"

"I have identification, but you won't see it without a reason.  The Vehicle Code says I have to identify myself if you are enforcing the Vehicle Code.  Are you?"

The deputy insisted that he WAS enforcing the Vehicle Code.  I responded that he was enforcing it on the driver, and what part of it was I in violation of?

He was miffed.  "Oh, it's like that is it?"  

I asked specifically why he wanted my identification, and he refused to answer.  He took my friend's documents back to the patrol car, and a much bigger deputy emerged and stood about two inches from my open window.  I took out my cell phone to let the bass player know we might be a little late, and I was admonished, "Why don't you wait until we're done here for that?"  As far as I was concerned we were done, but I put my phone away and I started eating my tamale instead.

I asked the big deputy why his associate wanted my identification.

He played stupid. "I don't know."

I said, "Well, you must know the other deputy, so he'll probably tell you. Why don't you ask him for me?"  Now the big deputy stopped responding to me.  Who knew you could shut the police up with a simple question?

My friend in the driver's seat was sure I was about to be arrested, but the deputy returned his papers and said we could go.  No citation was issued.

The reason I stood my ground so firmly is that this is not the first time I have been asked for identification as a passenger in a vehicle stopped for a made-up infraction.  

Years ago I was coming home from a baseball game in a friend's vehicle, and passing through the small town of Ross, which is one of the richest communities in the world, my friend was pulled over for an "unsafe lane change" even though not another vehicle was moving within sight of ours.

The officer demanded and got my identification and ran a warrant check on me.  Since this was before the days of the Internet and even though I am not a lawyer, I went down to the county law library and researched case law.  I found that in California, cases had been overturned because the arrest was based on a passenger being required to provide identification.

I took my findings to the Ross Chief of Police, and shortly afterward I received from him a letter acknowledging that passengers are not required to provide I.D. unless accused of something, apologizing for his officer's actions, and assuring me that his people would be retrained to know the limits of their authority.

There is no point to this story other than to impress my readers that the police always want to go fishing, and it is up to you the citizen to know when to refuse such a request.  Today I plan to call the Sheriff's department and see if I can find out why anyone wold care who the passenger is if he hasn't done anything.

9:25 PM PT: This morning I called the Sheriff's office, where I spoke with a Lieutenant.  I described the events, and he confirmed the weasel words.  "If the deputy just asked you, you can always say no."

I responded, "Does that mean that if the deputy just asked whether I had fifty dollars I would give him, it wouldn't be a robbery because I can always say no to the guy with a gun?"

The Lieutenant argued that there was no similarity, and that a mere query on the part of a deputy was not a direct order.  I pointed out that the deputy carried the implied authority of having the law on his side even if he was not entitled to my identification, an argument of no interest to the Lieutenant

The deputy had not suggested that my compliance was optional and not one person in a few thousand knew that identification was optional and had the guts to decline the "query," so was it a trick to get people to surrender their rights?

He would not concede the point and said that people could always decline under those circumstances, and that I was within my rights when I did.  He would not condemn the practice of the deputy "asking" whether I would give him identification, as long as it wasn't a direct order..

Now you know.  If it's a police officer asks you a question about identification, it's a trick and the answer should always be no.

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