Privacy of One’s Wallet

The People v Long case cited in today’s earlier Stop & Identify post was superseded by a later appellate decision (People v Long, 189 Cal. App. 3d 377 (1987)), but its treatment of the constitutional propriety of requiring Long to produce identification was not changed.  Police conducting a premises check of a bar spotted what appeared to be a minor female with Long.  He told police his name but denied having identification on him. “Officer Luca noticed a wallet-sized bulge in his rear pants pocket. He then asked defendant for written identification. Defendant said he had none. The officer then directed defendant to look through his wallet, believing it must have contained identification.”  When defendant turned away from Officer Luca to look in his wallet Luca “turned him back so he could see what he was doing” and observed “several open, clear, plastic baggies or bindles he recognized as common methamphetamine packaging.”  The trial court denied Long’s motion to suppress the evidence seized from his wallet.  The appellate court reviewed “the constitutional propriety of the police officer’s directive to defendant, a lawfully detained person, that he produce written identification”–an issue on which there was then no direct federal or California decision.  The court “recognize[d] there exists a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of one’s wallet, including identifying information.”  In the context of a Terry stop that reasonable expectation of privacy is balanced by legitimate state interests:

The voluntary display of identification is a routine experience for most of us. Measured against the obvious and substantial need for police recording the identity of a person suspected of having committed a crime, we find reasonable the minimal intrusion involved here in requiring the production of identification. In addition, defendant’s oral statement of his name was suspect when he insisted he had no identification while appearing to carry a wallet and, in addition, he seemed intoxicated.

The court upheld the constitutionality of the police requiring Long to produce his identification.  Note again that this issue arose during a Terry stop, absent which the police have no right to temporarily detain and question anyone.

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