Utah Supreme Court rules police can ask for ID, run background checks on car passengers

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court has ruled it is not a burden for police to ask for identification and run a background check on you in a traffic stop — even if you’re not the driver of the car.

In a ruling handed down this week, the state’s top court overturned a 2014 lower court ruling stemming from a traffic stop where a passenger was arrested on drug possession.

The ruling states Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Jeremy Horne stopped a car for improper lane change. George Matthew Martinez Jr. was a passenger inside the vehicle. The trooper asked for his identification and ran a background check on him, coming up with a warrant for Martinez’s arrest.

A glass pipe with methamphetamine was found on Martinez, the ruling said. He was arrested and charged with drug possession. Martinez challenged his conviction, arguing the trooper did not have “reasonable suspicion” to ask for his ID or run a background check as a passenger.

A lower court ruled in favor of Martinez, and the Utah Attorney General’s Office took it to the Utah Supreme Court.

“This case presents a single issue: 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?” Justice John Pearce wrote.

“We conclude that an officer does not violate the Fourth Amendment if she does so.”

The ruling cited officer safety as a reason. It could have broader implications on this case, giving police wider authority to ask for identification from passengers in simple traffic stops. In a footnote, Justice Pearce noted the UHP did not demand to see the passenger’s identification, but asked.

Read the court ruling here: