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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

The Hiibel Case

One afternoon in Humboldt County, Nev., a caller told the Sheriff's Department that a man was assaulting a woman in a pickup truck on Grass Valley Road. A responding deputy saw a truck parked on the side of the gravel road with a woman inside and a man outside. The deputy approached the man, Larry Hiibel, and told him there was a reported assault. The deputy requested ID. Hiibel refused to ID. Eleven times.

Hiibel was warned that refusal to ID would result in arrest, and when he continued to refuse to provide any kind of ID, he was arrested and charged with willfully resisting, delaying, or obstructing an officer in the discharge of official duty under a Nevada statute. Hiibel was convicted and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he had a Fourth and Fifth Amendment right to refuse to identify himself.

This time, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction.

As to the Fourth Amendment issue, the court held that as long as police have a reasonable suspicion that would justify a temporary detention under Terry V. Ohio, a state statute could reasonably require a subject to furnish at least his name without violating the Fourth Amendment. "The principles of Terry permit a State to require a suspect to disclose his name in the course of a Terry stop," said the court. If the refusal to ID amounted to a violation of state law regarding obstruction or delay of an officer, an arrest would not be unlawful.

The court did impose an important qualification, however: "Under these principles, an officer may not arrest a suspect for failure to identify himself if the request for identification is not reasonably related to the circumstances justifying the stop."

This means that a refusal to ID will not always be grounds for arrest. Rather, the circumstances must be such that there is a need to obtain ID for some legitimate investigative or safety purpose related to the activity or suspicions that warranted the stop. In the Hiibel case, for example, the deputy might have needed to determine whether the suspect was the subject of a domestic violence restraining order.

As to Hiibel's Fifth Amendment argument, the court said that the Fifth Amendment only prohibits compelling information of an incriminating nature. Because nothing in the circumstances of this case indicated that merely giving his name was likely to incriminate Hiibel, there was no Fifth Amendment prohibition in requiring ID or arresting for the refusal to ID.

Once again, however, the court left wiggle room for a Fifth Amendment challenge. In any "unusual circumstances" where stating a name might "have given the police a link in the chain of evidence needed to convict the individual of a separate offense," a Fifth Amendment challenge might succeed. (The court gave no examples of any such unusual circumstances.)

Stop, ID, and Arrest

From these cases, a few general rules appear. First, a suspect's initial detention must be justified by a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the person may be involved in criminal activity. This is the familiar Terry rule that applies to both vehicle stops and pedestrian detentions. (But note that in the case of a legitimate vehicle stop for a suspected traffic offense, state laws generally require the driver to display a driver's license, which will satisfy any ID requirement.)

Second, during a justifiable detention, the Fourth Amendment is not violated by a demand for identification to ascertain and verify the person's name.

Third, if the person refuses to ID, an arrest under a statute that criminalizes delay or obstruction of official duty is permissible under the Fourth Amendment, provided there was an evident need to obtain the person's name related to the circumstances justifying the stop.

And fourth, there should be no Fifth Amendment issue with requesting ID and arresting for refusal if the above rules are satisfied and the person's name is not used to provide a necessary link to convict him or her of some other crime.

The ruling in Hiibel, of course, takes on additional meaning at a time when the ability to identify detainees may have national security ramifications.

Attorney Devallis Rutledge, a former police officer and prosecutor, defends officers and agencies at Manning & Marder, Kass, Ellrod, Ramirez.

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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?

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