In Washington state, it's now okay to lie to the police, if you're a minority

The Supreme Court in Washington State has declared that, if you're a minority, it is no longer a criminal act to make a false or misleading statement to a police officer.  Sadly, if you're White, the law does not extend that "get out of jail card" to you.  While the Washington Supreme Court reached this decision using the state constitution, it's hard to see how this purely race-based approach can stand up to the United States Constitution's requirement, in the 14th amendment, that all people are entitled to equal treatment under the law.

The facts in State of Washington v. Palla Sum, AKA Pallo Sum, AKA San Kim Sum, are simple.  A police officer saw a car parked in an area in which police had previously apprehended stolen cars, with two people sleeping in it.  The driver, Palla Sum, was "Asian/Pacific Island[er]."

When asked about the car's ownership, Sum claimed not to know, saying that it was not his.  The police officer asked Sum and his passenger for ID, explaining in response to Sum's asking why the officer wanted to have that information "that the two men were sitting in an area known for stolen vehicles and that [Sum] did not appear to know to whom the vehicle he was sitting in belonged."

Sum gave the officer a fake name and date of birth.  Then, when the officer returned to his own car to check on the information, Sum took off at a high rate of speed.  After a chase that saw Sum run through "a stop sign and multiple red lights" before crashing the car, the officer arrested Sum.

Ironically, when the officer finally got to see the car's registration papers, they showed that Sum owned the car, having purchased it two weeks earlier.  The police also searched the whole car with a warrant and found an illegal pistol.

Among the charges levied at Sum was "making a false or misleading statement to a public servant."  Sum challenged this, saying he was "unlawfully seized" — that is, wrongfully ended up interacting with a police officer — so that his lying was a reasonable act.  Both the trial and appellate courts rejected this argument because "merely asking for identification is property characterized as a social contact."

Sum petitioned the Supreme Court, adding a racial element to his argument: "there is no justification — aside from unacceptably ignoring the issue of race altogether — for courts considering the totality of the circumstances to disregard the effect of race as one of the circumstances affecting evaluation of police contact."

Image: Police arresting someone by Piqsel.

The Washington Supreme Court agreed, holding that Sum's interaction with the officer was a warrantless seizure.  I can do no better now than to quote the Court's introduction and conclusion to its new, personally subjective, race-based standard:

As set forth in this court's precedent, the seizure inquiry is an objective test in which the allegedly seized person has the burden to show that a seizure occurred. To aid courts in the application of this test, we now clarify that a person is seized for purposes of article I, section 7 if, based on the totality of the circumstances, an objective observer could conclude that the person was not free to leave, to refuse a request, or to otherwise terminate the encounter due to law enforcement's display of authority or use of physical force. For purposes of this analysis, an objective observer is aware that implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination, have resulted in disproportionate police contacts, investigative seizures, and uses of force against Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) in Washington.


Today, we formally recognize what has always been true: in interactions with law enforcement, race and ethnicity matter. Therefore, courts must consider the race and ethnicity of the allegedly seized person as part of the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether there was a seizure for purposes of article I, section 7. Here, in light of all the circumstances of Sum's encounter with Deputy Rickerson, we hold that Sum was unlawfully seized before he provided a false name and birth date to the deputy, so his false statement must be suppressed.

It will be interesting, should a White person in Washington state be convicted of making a false statement to the police, to see whether the decision ends up before the United States Supreme Court.  After all, the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, which was passed because Blacks were denied equal treatment under the law, is explicit: "No State shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."  Under that standard, it's a tough sell that, if you're a "BIPOC," you can lie with impunity, but if you're White, off to the hoosegow with you.

That's not even a "separate but equal" standard, which Brown v. Board of Education blew apart.  Instead, it's two separate standards based upon nothing more than race — and laws based upon racial divisions are automatically in the category of classification subject to the strictest judicial scrutiny.  As the Supreme Court once stated, "any official action that treats a person differently on account of his race or ethnic origin is inherently suspect."

There's also a practical problem with this ruling: the Supreme Court just made it more difficult for the police to solve crimes in minority neighborhoods, which are traditionally the neighborhoods most plagued by criminal activity.

No matter how one looks at it, the Washington Supreme Court's racial pandering is a bad deal: bad for Whites, bad for minorities, and bad for the rule of equally applied law and due process that is the glue holding a country together.

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