PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF COLORADO v. DEREK LAVAN JACKSON
For some time, law enforcement has had little guidance from the Colorado Supreme Court in the area of motor vehicle passenger rights. For example, if the driver of a motor vehicle is stopped, is the passenger stopped lawfully when we consider that he has not committed any wrongdoing? May a police officer request a passenger in a lawfully stopped motor vehicle to provide identification, and if he does so request, may the passenger refuse or ignore the request? If identification is provided, may the officer retain the identification while he determines whether there are any outstanding warrants?
THE FACTS OF THE CASE
A police officer stopped a motorist one evening. The motorist was operating his vehicle with only the parking lights illuminated when headlights were required. The officer requested and received the driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. He also asked for and received identification from the passenger, Derek Lavan Jackson. The officer did not suspect Jackson of a crime, nor did he consider Jackson a threat. Having received the identification of both driver and passenger, the officer told them to “hang tight in the car. I’ll be back with you in a minute”. The officer returned to his patrol vehicle and conducted a “routine clearance” check to determine whether the motorist’s license was valid and whether there were any outstanding warrants for either person. The officer found there were three outstanding traffic warrants for Jackson, so the officer arrested him. Approximately 10-15 minutes had elapsed between the time the officer had contacted Jackson and when Jackson was taken into custody.
Later, during the booking process at the Aurora city jail, crack cocaine was found in Jackson’s pocket, and he was charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Jackson was tried and convicted of the possession charge and he appealed the conviction.
THE COURT OF APPEALS DECISION
The Colorado Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, holding that the officer had violated Jackson’s 4th amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure when he asked for Jackson’s identification without having any reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in any criminal activity.
The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether police officers must always have a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to question passengers of a stopped vehicle, or whether under some circumstances, such questioning should be viewed as a consensual interview not requiring any suspicion.