State v. Reed

Decision Date31 July 1984
Docket NumberNo. 14825,14825
Citation107 Idaho 162,686 P.2d 842
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Earl J. REED, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtIdaho Court of Appeals

Earl J. Reed, pro se.

Jim Jones, Atty. Gen. by Lynn E. Thomas, Sol. Gen., Boise, for plaintiff-respondent.


We are asked to decide whether the federal constitution bars the State of Idaho from requiring motor vehicle operators to carry proof of liability insurance. For reasons explained below, we hold that it does not. Accordingly, we affirm a judgment of conviction for failure to comply with an Idaho statute imposing this requirement.


While operating a pickup truck on a public highway at night, Earl J. Reed was stopped by an Ada County Sheriff's Deputy. The officer said he had observed a defective tail lamp on Reed's truck. Reed disputed the deputy's observation. He contended that both tail lamps were working and that a white light emitting from the rear of the truck was caused by a broken lens on a license plate lamp. The appellate record does not show whether the officer cited Reed for a tail lamp violation. In his brief, Reed states that he received no such citation. However, the record does disclose that during the traffic stop the officer asked to see Reed's driver's license, vehicle registration and certificate of liability insurance. When Reed failed to produce an insurance certificate, he was cited for a violation of I.C. § 49-245. That statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

A certificate or proof of liability insurance shall be in the possession of the operator of every motor vehicle or present in every motor vehicle at all times when said vehicle is operated within this state. The certificate or proof of liability insurance shall be provided for inspection to any peace officer upon request to the operator of any motor vehicle. A violation of this section shall be a misdemeanor, provided that no person shall be convicted of violating this section if that person produces at any time prior to conviction the certificate or proof of liability insurance covering the motor vehicle that person is accused of operating in violation of this section, where such certificate or proof of liability insurance demonstrates the existence of liability insurance ... which was in effect at the time of occurrence of the violation of this section.

When Reed appeared before a magistrate, he presented no proof of liability insurance. To the contrary, he stated that he was uninsured, that he did not believe in insurance, and that he considered I.C. § 49-245 to be unconstitutional. The magistrate rejected Reed's constitutional defense and adjudged him guilty of violating the statute. On appeal the district court affirmed. Reed appealed again, bringing the case before us.


Reed's challenge to the validity of I.C. § 49-245 is grounded entirely upon the federal constitution. His principal arguments appear to be that the statute contravenes (a) the supremacy clause of article 6, cl. 2; (b) the fourth amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures; (c) the fifth amendment's privilege against self-incrimination; and (d) the guarantees of substantive due process and equal protection contained in the fourteenth amendment. Each of these points is discussed below. Other assertions by Reed, ostensibly based upon the ninth, tenth and thirteenth amendments, are not discussed because Reed has failed to make a colorable showing that those provisions apply to this case.


We begin with the supremacy clause, not because it is dispositive but because Reed's reliance upon it exemplifies a common error in lay constitutional attacks upon duly enacted statutes. Article 6, cl. 2 provides:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof ... shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

This section is complemented by article 6, cl. 3, which provides that "[t]he senators and representatives ... of the several state legislatures, and all executives and judicial officers ... shall be bound by oath ... to support this Constitution."

Upon these provisions Reed constructs a circular argument. He contends that I.C. § 49-245, which he denounces as a product of ill-conceived public policy, "has never been proven to be in accordance to the Constitution." From that premise he urges that the statute is invalid, that our state legislators committed constitutional error by enacting it, and that the courts simply should do their constitutional duty by striking the statute down. Both the premise and the conclusion of this argument are fatally flawed. Although the constitutionality of the Idaho statute has not been adjudicated in a previously reported decision, similar statutes have been upheld against a variety of constitutional challenges. See cases cited in Comment, Financial Responsibility Laws in Constitutional Perspective, 61 CALIF.L.REV. 1072 (1973) [hereinafter cited as Comment, Constitutional Perspective ]; Annot., 35 A.L.R.2d 1011 (1954). More fundamentally, the lack of a prior determination of constitutionality would not signify, in any event, that a statute is invalid. It is well established that a statute carries a presumption of constitutionality. E.g., Weller v. Hopper, 85 Idaho 386, 379 P.2d 792 (1963). A statute is not invalid until proven constitutional; rather, it is valid until adjudicated unconstitutional.

Such an adjudication cannot be based solely upon a contention that the statute is unwise as a matter of policy. The federal constitution imbues judges with no general authority to strike down legislative enactments with which litigants, or even the judges themselves, might disagree. A statute may be held invalid only if it is shown specifically to abridge a constitutionally protected right or to exceed a constitutional limitation upon legislative power. A statute like I.C. § 49-245, requiring proof of motor vehicle liability insurance, falls squarely within the constitutionally recognized scope of a state's police power. See generally Comment, Constitutional Perspective. Consequently, our inquiry in this case is narrowed to the particular constitutional rights which Reed claims have been violated.


Reed contends that the fourth amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures is violated by a requirement that drivers exhibit proof of insurance upon request. The fourth amendment applies to states through the fourteenth amendment. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961). Reed asserts that if I.C. § 49-245 is upheld,

[a]ny person who choses [sic] to operate a motor vehicle in the State of Idaho must relinguish [sic] all rights offered by the fourth amendment, and be prepared upon request with out [sic] warrant or probable cause, to prove they have in their possession, proof of liability insurance.

This assertion presumes that a police officer's request to see a certificate of liability insurance is a "search" governed by the fourth amendment. We disagree. The fourth amendment protects objectively reasonable expectations of privacy. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967). A search in the constitutional sense occurs only when a legitimate privacy interest is invaded. The mere fact that an insurance certificate is issued by an insurance company rather than by the government does not, of itself, create a privacy interest. The insurance certificate, like a driver's license or a certificate of motor vehicle registration, is statutorily mandated evidence of compliance with state-imposed conditions for operating a motor vehicle upon the public highways. We believe that no legitimate privacy interest inheres in the documents themselves. Consequently, the fourth amendment is not offended by a requirement to produce the documents on request. Our view is consistent with a uniform body of court decisions upholding the constitutionality of statutes requiring drivers' licenses to be produced upon police request. See Annot., 6 A.L.R.3d 506 (1966); cf. State v. Hobson, 95 Idaho 920, 923, 523 P.2d 523, 526 (1974) (characterizing a policeman's request to see a driver's license as a "legitimate request" incident to a traffic stop).

Of course, this does not mean that the fourth amendment is blind to the circumstances surrounding such a police request. Where the request is incident to a traffic stop, the reasonableness of that stop may be put at issue. The United States Supreme Court, in Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979), has held that a traffic stop constitutes a "seizure," albeit brief, of the vehicle and its occupants. Consequently, the police are not vested with unrestrained discretion to detain motor vehicle operators. Rather, in order for the "seizure" to be reasonable, a stop must be supported by an articulable and reasonable suspicion that the vehicle is being driven contrary to the traffic laws or that either the vehicle or an occupant is subject to detention in connection with violation of other laws. Id. 440 U.S. at 661-63, 99 S.Ct. at 1400-1401.

In this case the magistrate implicitly found, and the record plainly shows, that the sheriff's deputy had reason to suspect a violation of the traffic laws. An officer who observes a white light on the rear of a forward-moving vehicle reasonably could suspect a defective tail lamp and would be entitled briefly to detain the vehicle for further inquiry. Such a stop would not constitute an unreasonable seizure. Once the stop had occurred, nothing in the fourth amendment would preclude the officer from routinely asking the motorist to exhibit his driver's license, the vehicle registration and an insurance certificate.


Reed next contends that I.C. § 49-245 infringes upon the fifth amendment...

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