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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

For the Crime of Using Public Transportation? (Updated)

Read this:

Meet Deborah Davis. She’s a 50 year-old mother of four who lives and works in Denver, Colorado. Her kids are all grown-up: her middle son is a soldier fighting in Iraq. She leads an ordinary, middle class life. You probably never would have heard of Deb Davis if it weren’t for her belief in the U.S. Constitution.

One morning in late September 2005, Deb was riding the public bus to work. She was minding her own business, reading a book and planning for work, when a security guard got on this public bus and demanded that every passenger show their ID. Deb, having done nothing wrong, declined. The guard called in federal cops, and she was arrested and charged with federal criminal misdemeanors after refusing to show ID on demand.

She hadn’t been accused of a crime--in fact, there was no cause to believe that she had committed or would commit a crime. Where is her obligation to produce identification, and the private information contained on the ID, to a security guard on a bus? And for what cause? Seriously, why did that security guard need to see her identification? Was he going to remove her from the bus if he didn’t like her name? What was the cause requiring him to check the ID of every person using public transportation?

Real security is taking measures to ensure that bombs, guns, and knives don’t get into the places where they will do the most harm. Real security is not capricious demands of citizens for no discernible cause.

The bus that she was riding did travel across Federal property--the Denver Federal Center--but the request for ID at a checkpoint is nothing but a compliance test. It’s a meaningless show of power since the only “pass” is producing the identification. The IDs aren’t checked for veracity or against any list of dangerous figures, and producing ID allows you to pass through the Federal property.

From another part of the site:

Through these charges, it appears that the Feds are claiming that people were on notice that they had to show ID.  Nowhere is this evident, unless ‘Public Welcome’ flags are bureaucratese for ‘Papers, please’.  In addition, Deb wasn’t even visiting the Denver Federal Center.  That the public bus transits the facility isn’t her fault.  If the Center really is Denver’s answer to Area 51, then public buses should be driving around — not through — the Center.

Sounds about right.

To tell the truth, after reading through the complaints and the site supporting her cause, I’m guessing this isn’t a person I would like. I’m guessing that she really was a little rude and not entirely respectful; that isn’t relevant when discussing whether she had the obligation to produce ID on demand.

The Supreme Court has recently said that police have the right to demand a name from a person who isn’t suspected of a crime (in this case that would seem to be similar), but I don’t have to believe that they decided correctly.

And, frankly, even that seems like a stretch since there was no accusation of criminal activity--with the exception of her refusal to show ID--on the part of Davis. Consider this, about the earlier case, from Talk Left:

The ruling arose in the context of a Terry stop—a (supposedly brief) detention for the purpose of investigating suspected criminal behavior.  The police are required to have an objectively reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before making a Terry stop, but experience shows that officers conjure up all sorts of reasons for demanding that individuals halt and answer their questions.  The detained persons have the right not to incriminate themselves, but as of today, they don’t have the right to refuse to identify themselves—except in those states that have independently protected that right as a matter of state law.

Let’s be honest: I’m not a lawyer and my knowledge of law is limited to what I read on Volokh Conspiracy (since I automatically discount anything I see on TV or in the movies as being more based in drama than in fact). In fact, I’m sure that there is more to this than I could find with a few simple Google searches. For that matter, maybe someone can articulate a compelling reason that police should expect citizens to produce identification on demand, regardless of suspicion of illegal activities or any demonstrable security purpose.

I realize that my understanding of the intricacies is limited. So, hey, I’m listening.

Update: And don’t forget to read what Publicola has to say.

And be sure to read De Doc, too.

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