Independent Basis for Washington Officer Requesting I.D. for Suspicion of Violating Protection Order

The Washington Constitution protects people from unlawful searches and seizures.  Article 1, section 7 has been interpreted by Washington courts to prohibit police from requesting identification of a passenger unless there is an independent basis for the request.  An independent basis exists if the officer can identify specific and articulable facts that, when taken with rational inferences, justify the request.  Washington criminal defense attorneys know that an unlawful search or seizure can occur in any kind of case, including a violation of a protection order.

In a recent case, a Washington appeals court considered whether an officer had an independent basis to ask the identity of a passenger when the driver was protected by a no-contact order.  The defendant’s arrest arose from an incident in which an officer stopped a vehicle for expired registration and failure to transfer title.  A man got out of the vehicle before the officer approached.  The officer learned that the driver of the vehicle had several warrants.  He also learned she was the protected party in a domestic violence no-contact order.  The officer determined the description of the restrained party matched the passenger who had gotten out of the vehicle.  He found that the passenger was in the portable outdoor restroom of a nearby gas station.  The door to the restroom indicated it was unlocked and unoccupied.  He knocked and opened the door, finding the passenger inside.

The passenger gave the officer a name and date of birth that did not match the restrained party.  They then returned to the patrol vehicle, where the officer saw pictures of the man bearing the name given and the restrained party.  The officer determined that the passenger was the restrained party and arrested him for a violation of the no-contact order.

The state charged him with a felony violation of the no-contact order and second-degree identity theft.  The defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained after the officer requested identification, arguing the officer had not had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to request the identification.  The trial court, however, concluded that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the defendant was engaged in criminal activity.

The jury convicted the defendant of felony violation of a no-contact order and second-degree identity theft.  The defendant was sentenced to 60 months’ confinement.  He appealed.

On appeal, the defendant argued the trial court erred in failing to suppress evidence because the officer did not have an independent basis for requesting his identification. In this case, the defendant exited the vehicle during the traffic stop.  The officer learned the driver was protected by a domestic violence no-contact order, and the defendant matched the description of the restrained party.  Based on this information, the officer suspected the defendant had violated the no-contact order and requested his identification.

The trial court found the description closely matched the officer’s observation of the passenger.  The court further found that the officer suspected the defendant was engaged in criminal activity.  It found that the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to ask for the defendant’s name.

Based on the trial court’s findings of fact, the appeals court found that the officer had an articulable suspicion that supported his request for identification.  The appeals court found the trial court had not erred in denying the motion to suppress the evidence.  The appeals court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

In this case, the independent basis was both the exiting of the vehicle and the resemblance to the description of the restrained party.  The court did not indicate whether it would have found an independent basis based on the resemblance alone, if the defendant had remained in the vehicle.

This case also illustrates the significant consequences that can result from a violation of a protection order.  This case was the defendant’s third violation of a no-contact order.  The defendant and the protected party were in a vehicle together.  Whether there is a no-contact order, a domestic violence order, or a civil anti-harassment order, the restrained party must comply with the order and avoid prohibited contact, or face consequences ranging from contempt of court to a criminal conviction.

The Washington protection order attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, understand both civil protection orders and criminal law.  If you are seeking an order or opposing an order being pursued against you, call us at (206) 622-6562 to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Protection Order Violations and Burglary

Alternative Means and Unanimous Jury Verdicts in Washington


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