The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that a local ordinance which required residents to provide identification to Law Enforcement, regardless of whether that citizen was otherwise being lawfully detained, be unconstitutional.
The Court’s decision in Wingate v. Fuller No. 19-1700 (4th Cir. 2021), analyzed a Virginia case where a man was arrested for failing to provide identification to Law Enforcement, even though it was undisputed that there was no evidence of any other crime having been committed. In the case, George Wingate was experiencing car trouble and pulled off to the side of the road to work on his vehicle. Thereafter, officers passing by noticed Mr. Wingate and his vehicle and, presuming the vehicle to be disabled, turned around to provide assistance. However, upon arriving on the scene the officer stated that Mr. Wingate exited the vehicle and acted in a way that, at least to the officer, appeared suspicious. At that time, officers required Mr. Wingate to provide identification and made it clear he was not free to leave. The officer cited a local ordinance which required citizens to provide identification to Law Enforcement regardless of whether the citizen was being lawfully detained for a substantive offense. Mr. Wingate refused, was arrested, and charged with a number of offenses. Prior to his trial, the charges were dropped and he subsequently filed a civil action seeking damages under U.S.C. §1983 as well other causes of action.
The question before the court was whether or not the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for the arrest of Mr. Wingate. Qualified immunity allows officers and other government officials to avoid civil liability if their conduct falls within certain protected areas. To answer this question, the Court had to first rule on whether the underlying ordinance was constitutional.
It’s ruling was a blow to Mr. Wingate, but a substantial victory for civil rights advocates. The court ruled that the underlying statute, requiring individuals to identify themselves to police, even absent any other ongoing investigation was unconstitutional. This is the first ruling of its kind in the fourth circuit. Unfortunately, however, the court also ruled that because the constitutionality, or lack thereof, of the statute was not clearly established at the time of the arrest, the officers involved were entitled to qualified immunity and thus protected from liability.
The law regarding search and seizure, the 4th amendment, and police and governmental liability is constantly evolving and requires an experienced attorney to navigate these complex civil and criminal issues. Attorney T. Jarrett Bouchette is a criminal defense attorney, a trial attorney, and shareholder in the Floyd Law Firm PC. His broad-based experience includes bench and jury trials in both civil and criminal court. Mr. Bouchette is a board member of the South Carolina Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (SCACDL) and a member of the “National Trial Lawyers 40 under 40”.
Securing the representation of an attorney who knows how to build an effective defense, is an essential part towards ensuring that you are able to obtain the best possible outcome to your case. The Floyd Law Firm is here to help you if you have been accused of a crime. Our defense attorneys are experienced in providing aggressive criminal defense. We offer skilled legal representation in magistrate’s court, municipal court, and state courts. We provide defense for clients charged with misdemeanors and felonies.