When do I have to show ID?
This is a tricky issue. As a general principle, citizens who are minding their own business are not obligated to “show their papers” to police. In fact, there is no law requiring citizens to carry identification of any kind.
Nonetheless, carrying an ID is required when you’re driving or flying. Driving without a license is a crime, and no one is allowed to board an airplane without first presenting an ID. These requirements have been upheld on the premise that individuals who prefer not to carry ID can choose not to drive or fly.
From here, ID laws only get more complicated. In Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, the Supreme Court upheld state laws requiring citizens to disclose their identity to police when officers have reasonable suspicion to believe criminal activity may be taking place. Commonly known as ‘stop and identify’ statutes, these laws permit police to arrest criminal suspects who refuse to identify themselves.
Currently the following states have stop and identify laws: AL, AR, CO, DE, FL, GA, IL, KS, LA, MO, MT, NE, NH, NM, NV, NY, ND, RI, UT, VT, WI
Regardless of your state’s law, keep in mind that police can never compel you to identify yourself without reasonable suspicion to believe you’re involved in criminal activity. Rather than asking the officer if he/she has reasonable suspicion, test it yourself by asking if you’re free to go.
If the officer says you’re free to go, leave immediately and refrain from answering any additional questions.
If the officer detains you, you’ll have to decide whether withholding your identity is worth the possibility of arrest or a prolonged detention. In cases of mistaken identity, revealing who you are might help to resolve the situation quickly. On the other hand, if you’re on parole in California, for example, revealing your identity could lead to a legal search. Knowing your state’s laws can help you make the best choice.
**Keep in mind that the officer’s decision to detain you will not always hold up in court. ‘Reasonable suspicion’ is a vague evidentiary standard, which lends itself to mistakes on the officer’s part. If you’re searched or arrested following an officer’s ID request, always contact an attorney to discuss the incident and explore your legal options.**
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