State v. Flynn
In State v. Flynn, 92 Wis. 2d 427, 285 N.W.2d 710 (1979), the police were dispatched at 2:45 a.m. to a break-in at a sporting goods store and were given a description of one suspect who had allegedly taken a rifle.
A half hour later, Officer Sargent observed two men emerge from an alley two blocks from the burglarized store. One of the men fit the description of the suspected burglar. Sargent approached the two men and requested identification.
The person who fit the suspect's description properly identified himself, but the other man, Flynn, refused. Sargent explained to Flynn the reason for requesting identification-that there had been a burglary in the area and that Flynn was accompanying a man who fit the burglar's description-but Flynn persisted in his refusal.
Although Flynn admitted that he was carrying identification in his wallet, he stated that under no circumstances would he show it to Sargent. Sargent informed Flynn that if he refused he would take him to the police station to identify him there. Flynn again refused and became belligerent with Sargent.
Sargent then conducted a frisk of Flynn and removed his wallet and a pair of pliers. As the frisk was taking place, Flynn dropped his arms and a flashlight fell from his sleeve.
The pliers and flashlight were seized and the wallet was examined for identification. Once Flynn's name was found on a document in the wallet, Sargent and the other officers radioed headquarters and discovered that Flynn was wanted for a prior burglary. See Flynn, 92 Wis. 2d at 432.
Flynn was then placed under arrest, taken to the police station and later charged with burglary.
The supreme court ruled that the identification search was constitutional.
In reaching its decision, the court initially observed that "unless the officer is entitled to at least ascertain the identity of the suspect, the right to stop him can serve no useful purpose at all." Flynn, 92 Wis. 2d at 442.
The court stated that police authority would be diminished where an officer had the right to request identification but the suspect could simply refuse without any detriment to the suspect. See Flynn, 92 Wis. 2d at 444.
In determining whether Sargent's search for identification was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the court conducted a balancing test in which the need for the particular search is weighed against the invasion of personal rights that the search entailed. See Flynn, 92 Wis. 2d at 446.
The court determined that the need for identification was high because the officers had reason to believe a crime had taken place in the vicinity, it was very early in the morning, there was at least one firearm that had been taken and the public has a compelling interest in the quick apprehension of burglars
On the other side of the scale, the intrusion was considered appropriate because the officer removed Flynn's wallet solely to look for identifying papers. See Flynn, 92 Wis. 2d at 446-47.
"These officers were not fishing for whatever evidence they could find, but sought merely to learn defendant's identity." Flynn, 92 Wis. 2d at 448.
The court thus concluded that when a person refuses to provide identification when an officer is justified in stopping him or her and requesting identification, the officer may remove his or her wallet to obtain the identification.
In permitting an identification search, the Flynn court was careful to limit its holding to "factual situations such as the one presently before us." Flynn, 92 Wis. 2d at 449.