Jane Doe Refuses to Give ID in Taillight Traffic Stop, Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
A woman in Carroll County near Baltimore, Maryland, was released from jail after a 67-day stay because she refused to identify herself, repeatedly claiming that to do so would violate her Fifth Amendment rights (which protect against being forced to give evidence that could incriminate you). During this time, Jane Doe (since she never did give up her identity and still refuses to do so) and members of advocacy group the Save-A-Patriot Fellowship questioned and protested the court and police’s decision to hold her due to what they call her invoking the Constitution.
Bob Kurland, of the Save-A-Patriot Fellowship, asked the court, “Do you believe she is John Dillinger, public enemy No. 1? How can you be held for exercising your Fifth Amendment rights?”
Police, prosecutors, and a law professor that specializes in Fifth Amendment law said that the answer to that question is simple: she isn’t exercising her Fifth Amendment rights. Refusal to identify yourself, they say, is not protected by the Constitution, and in fact was the subject of a Supreme Court decision 11 years ago where the court specifically said that a request from police to identify yourself was not a violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Jane Doe told the Carroll County Times that she was aware of the decision, but she wasn’t interested in what it said, insisting that giving your identity could incriminate you.
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It always baffles me why people think that they know the Constitution better than the Supreme Court, whose only job, every day, is to study, interpret, and pass judgment on the Constitution. This reminds me very much of a story we ran back in June, where a Texas man insisted that the police had no right to stop him and detain him for speeding. The man thought that he knew the law on whether or not the officer had the right to arrest him better than the officer did, despite it being what the officer does every day.
However, unlike the Texas man, who was partly correct in that speeding in Texas can be legal in some instances, Jane Doe is wholly incorrect.
This, by the way, all began when police noticed that Doe had a burned-out taillight. So, they turned on their lights to pull her over, but she didn’t stop. She told the Times that she had seen the lights, but she “didn’t know what it was,” so she kept driving like normal. Then, after the officer made contact with her at a traffic light, she refused to identify herself and had to be forcibly removed from her vehicle. She was charged with failure to obey a lawful command, resisting arrest, and obstructing an investigation.
She asserts that there was no probable cause to detain her and keep her.
I’d say she is wrong again (and the court, apparently, agrees). The legal system views “probable cause” from the Fourth Amendment as a “practical, non-technical” standard that draws on “factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men […] act” (from Illinois v. Gates in 1983). So, plainly stated, to detain and arrest someone, there has to be a reason or reasons why.
Reasons like having a burned-out taillight, not stopping for police* and refusing to identify yourself.
*Side note: how many red and blue flashing lights does she live around that seeing some in her rearview mirror makes her think “oh, well surely this has nothing to do with me, even if they are following right behind me”?
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Right or wrong (read: wrong), Jane Doe was eventually released after the Sheriff’s Office obtained her fingerprints and sent them to the FBI to check if there were any warrants out for her (there weren’t). Then, since they had held her for two months or so, they figured that that was enough punishment, so they released her.
For the record, the courts did not have to release her then: the charges she was arrested for (failure to obey a lawful command, resisting arrest, and obstructing an investigation) can result in a maximum total penalty of over six years in jail or up to $8,500 in fines (60 days in jail or $500 for failure to obey, three years or $5,000 for resisting arrest, and three years or $3,000 for obstructing an investigation). That Doe’s imprisonment did not last longer is entirely due to the court’s decision based on her behavior, according to Carroll County State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo.
“When we are preparing a case, our overriding concern is always what is just in that situation,” he said. “Ultimately, we knew she wasn’t dangerous, so she served far in excess what she would have if she had cooperated. So essentially, it is an abatement by time served.”
I think DeLeonardo said it best after he told the Times that all Doe really accomplished was causing an annoyance and burden to herself, the county, and the taxpayers: “Essentially, if people think it’s a good route to go and want to spend an enormous amount of time in jail more than they would, they can do that.”
On a broader note, this seems very much like part of a recent uptick in a “police are scum” mentality, where people are being antagonistic to police. While I agree with railing against police that display brutality, it is ridiculous to be antagonistic with police on a day-to-day basis. No matter what some officers do, broadly speaking police are there because people need protection from one another. And, to protect us from each other, police need our help to some extent, starting with letting them know who you are.
If you won’t tell them who you are, that throws up a huge red flag that says “I am a suspicious stranger and quite possibly am being looked for by police somewhere else.”
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The bottom line is that if Jane Doe has just given the officer her identification, then he would have given her a repair order for her taillight and they would have both gone their separate ways, saving time, aggravation, tax dollars, detention center space, and a pointless argument against an 11-year-old Supreme Court decision. All of this is because of some nameless, crimeless woman’s need to defy the police in the pettiest way possible.
So, Jane Doe, whoever you actually are, I hope you are pleased with yourself.
News Source: Carroll County Times
Daniel Susco is a native of the Dayton-Cincinnati area, and has written on a multitude of subjects. He can discuss Shakespeare, expound on Classical Mythology, and even make witty jokes about Pliny the Elder (More like “Pliny the Rounder,” right?). In his free time, Daniel enjoys reading, cooking, woodworking, and long walks on the beach (just kidding – sunburn is no joke). See more articles by Daniel.