The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has ruled in favor of Roland Edger, an Alabama mechanic, asserting that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated after being arrested for failure to show police his ID.
The incident unfolded on June 10, 2019, when Edger, a Huntsville mechanic, was called to repair a customer’s car in a local church parking lot.
After inspecting the vehicle and determining that further tools were needed for repair, Edger returned later that evening with his stepson. A security guard, suspicious of the two, called 911, reporting “two Hispanic males, messing with an employee’s car.”
Upon arrival, the police questioned Edger about his activities.
Despite explaining his legitimate purpose on the property, Edger was pressed to provide identification. He declined, stating, “I ain’t going to submit to no ID,” and suggested the officers verify the situation with the car’s owner.
The situation escalated when Officer Cameron Perillat handcuffed Edger, who was subsequently arrested and charged with “obstructing governmental operations” for not providing his ID, even though he offered it after being handcuffed.
The charges were later dismissed.
Edger’s lawsuit claims a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, spotlighting an Alabama statute that only mandates individuals to provide their name, address, and an explanation of their actions when there is reasonable suspicion of a crime.
Notably, the statute does not require individuals to present a driver’s license or ID card.
Initially, the District Court for the Northern District of Alabama dismissed the suit, granting the officers qualified immunity.
This legal doctrine shields government officials from civil rights lawsuits unless they have violated a “clearly established” law.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed this decision last week, emphasizing that “no reasonable officer could have believed they could arrest Mr. Edger for failing to produce his ‘ID’ or ‘driver’s license.’”
Judge Charles R. Wilson, writing for the court, underscored the clarity of the Alabama statute, which specifies only three pieces of information that police may request.
While police in Alabama can require individuals to identify themselves in certain situations, they are not entitled to a formal ID card or answers beyond the specific questions the law mandates.
“It has been clearly established for decades prior to Mr. Edger’s arrest that the police are free to ask questions, and the public is free to ignore them,” Wilson wrote, affirming that any legal obligation to respond to police inquiries is determined by state law.
This ruling allows Edger’s lawsuit to advance and sets a precedent, reinforcing the public’s right to decline answering police questions beyond the scope mandated by state law.