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N.M. Supreme Court provides guidance on law enforcement authority during traffic stops

Officers may ask passenger’s name and date of birth

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday clarified the authority of law enforcement officers to expand the scope of their investigation during a traffic stop to ask a passenger in a vehicle for identifying information.

The high court said the identifying information could include a name and a date of birth.

The court concluded unanimously that a Clovis police officer had the necessary “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity to ask about the identity of a front seat passenger in a vehicle stopped because of a broken license plate light.

The court held that the police officer’s questioning of Hugo Vasquez-Salas was permissible under federal and state constitutional provisions that protect against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Vasquez-Salas was subsequently arrested and convicted in 2018 of possession of burglary tools. He appealed his conviction.

The state’s high court rejected arguments by Vasquez-Salas that the police questioning about his identity lacked a constitutional justification.

He contended a district court should have blocked evidence from the traffic stop introduced at his trial.