FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

Departments : Point of Law

Stop and Identify

A suspect’s refusal to give his or her name can warrant an arrest.

October 01, 2004  |  by Devallis Rutledge - Also by this author


During a temporary detention, does a person have a duty to identify himself or herself to the detaining officer? Can a person be arrested for refusing to do so? The answer to both questions is, "Sometimes."

Luckily for all of us, we're not living in a totalitarian regime where we have to produce identification papers on demand of the secret police. On the other hand, some situations arise where police need to know the identity of a person being detained. Identifying suspects, eliminating non-suspects, running warrant checks, enforcing domestic violence restraining orders, and many other law enforcement duties may require that identification be obtained from the person being detained.

The willful failure to produce ID in such circumstances could amount to unlawful obstruction or delay of official duty, which is an arrestable offense in most jurisdictions. In other circumstances, however, ID may not be required, and the refusal to ID may not necessarily support an arrest. Three significant decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court have addressed this issue, including one decision in the 2004 term of the court.

Brown v. Texas

Zackary Brown was stopped by police officers in El Paso one afternoon in 1977, when they saw him walking away from another man in an alley that had a high incidence of narcotics activity. The officers asked Brown to identify himself and explain what he was doing in the area. He refused and was arrested for violating a state statute that required identification upon being lawfully stopped by a peace officer.

The Supreme Court ruled that police reliance upon the "stop and identify" statute "to detain Brown and require him to identify himself violated the Fourth Amendment because the officers lacked any reasonable suspicion to believe he was engaged or had engaged in criminal conduct."

The general guideline that emerges from this ruling is that ID cannot be demanded from a person you have no reasonable suspicion to detain, and the failure to ID in such a case does not provide probable cause for arrest.

Kolender v. Lawson

Also in 1977, officers in San Diego arrested Edward Lawson when he refused to present identification after being stopped for walking at night in areas with high crime rates. The California statute under which Lawson was arrested required a person to provide "credible and reliable" identification to an officer who stopped him, and to account for his presence.

Although the Supreme Court might simply have applied the holding of Brown v. Texas and ruled the detention unlawful under the Fourth Amendment, the court went further, declaring the statute itself unconstitutional. According to the majority, the California statute was "unconstitutionally vague on its face" because it allowed officers the discretion to decide what kind of ID was sufficiently "credible and reliable" to avoid arrest.

As it had in the Brown case, the Supreme Court in the Kolender case sidestepped the issue of whether, and under what circumstances, an arrest for failure to ID might be constitutionally permissible. The answer waited 27 more years.

CONTINUED: Stop and Identify «   Page 1 of 2   »

Tags: U.S. Supreme Court Cases, Civil Rights Cases, Vehicle Stops, Terry Stops, Point of Law


Comments (1)

Displaying 1 - 1 of 1

Amigajoe @ 7/1/2013 10:48 AM

It's funny, you express relief that we don't live in a 'Police State', then cite examples of Police behaving in that exact manner. The risk of going to jail and maybe having your rights vindicated later in Court will deter all but the most steadfast of citizens from disobeying an unlawful ID request; that makes it a de facto Police State, doesn't it?

Join the Discussion





POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Stories

Beyond CIT
When it comes to the mentally ill, many police departments are finding themselves...
Inside the Mind of a Cold Case Detective
The first thing a good investigator, especially a cold case investigator, needs to know is...
Concerns of Police Survivors Healing Hearts
Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) welcomes with open arms those who have suffered...

Get Your FREE Trial Issue and Win a Gift! Subscribe Today!
Yes! Please rush me my FREE TRIAL ISSUE of POLICE magazine and FREE Officer Survival Guide with tips and tactics to help me safely get out of 10 different situations.

Just fill in the form to the right and click the button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.

If POLICE does not satisfy you, just write "cancel" on the invoice and send it back. You'll pay nothing, and the FREE issue is yours to keep. If you enjoy POLICE, pay only $25 for a full one-year subscription (12 issues in all). Enjoy a savings of nearly 60% off the cover price!

Offer valid in US only. Outside U.S., click here.
It's easy! Just fill in the form below and click the red button to receive your FREE Trial Issue.
First Name:
Last Name:
Rank:
Agency:
Address:
City:
State:
  
Zip Code:
 
Country:
We respect your privacy. Please let us know if the address provided is your home, as your RANK / AGENCY will not be included on the mailing label.
E-mail Address:

Police Magazine