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Should I give my name and my ID to a police officer who asks for it?

under arrest

Under Arrest in the Safeway Parking Lot . US Park Police . Waterfront Mall, SW . WDC . 23 September 2005. Image: Elvert Xavier Barnes Photographer via Flickr

There cannot be a direct yes and no answer to this question. It all depends on when, where, why, and how a police officer has approached you and demanded for your identity.

It’s important to know that several laws and statutes interplay in this situation.

First, there’s the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution which protects your right against warrantless search and seizures and upholds your right to privacy.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, thall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probably cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Utah Code 77-7-15, however, authorizes police officers to stop and question a suspect. It reads:

A peace officer may stop any person in a public place when he has a reasonable suspicion to believe he has committed or is in the act of committing or is attempting to commit a public offense and may demand his name, address and an explanation of his actions.”

Added to this, under Utah Code 76-8-301.5, a person who fails to disclose his identity when he is lawfully stopped could be slapped with a class B misdemeanor. It reads:

A person is guilty of failure to disclose identity if during the period of time that the person is lawfully subjected to a stop as described in Section 77-7-15:

(a) a peace officer demands that the person disclose the person’s name;

(b) the demand described in Subsection (1) (a) is reasonably related to the circumstances justifying the stop;

(c) the disclosure of the person’s name by the person does not present a reasonable danger of self-incrimination in the commission of a crime; and

(d) the person fails to disclose the person’s name.

Failure to disclose identity is a class B misdemeanor.”

Reasonable suspicion

The “Stop and identify” statutes such as the one enforced in Utah only applies if the police officer has reasonable suspicion that the person being asked to stop and show ID has committed a crime, is committing a crime, or is about to commit a crime.

How will you know that there is reasonable suspicion if you are the person being stopped?
Let’s attempt to categorize the police officer’s approach to you assuming this happened while you were walking on the street.

Category 1 could be a simple approach, just like when a stranger asks you for direction or for the time. In this kind of approach, the police officer does not expressly inform you that you are being stopped for an investigation that is going on.

In this kind of approach, does the police officer have the right to demand for your ID and do you have to answer his questions? No, he does not have the right to demand for your ID and no, you don’t have to answer his questions.

Technically, you can walk away and ignore the police officer, and that does not violate any law, although this rarely happens. You can be polite so as to ask the police officer, “How can I help you?”, as is often the case.

Category 2. The police officer expressly states that you are being stopped in connection to an ongoing criminal investigation, let’s say, for theft.
In this situation, you are obliged under the law to show your identification. The police officer may ask your name, your address, and “an explanation of your actions”, probably what you’re doing when and where you were stopped. Even if you are innocent, cooperate with the police officer and answer his questions.

Do not, however, answer questions that will incriminate you. This is the protection you have under the law to “remain silent,” which is provided under the 5th Amendment, which states that:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

If you feel the police officer is asking you questions which may incriminate you, demand to speak to your lawyer. Never say you’re innocent, never defend yourself. Simply remain silent and let your lawyer do his job.

Remember, never argue with a police officer, never talk back. Never touch a police officer even if you intend to do so in a ‘friendly’ way.

A category 3 approach is when you are stopped by a police officer who believes he has probable cause that you committed the crime.

In this situation, you may be detained for further questioning. The police officer should be able to tell you why are you are being detained.

Again, you have the obligation to present your ID, but you are not obliged to answer questions that will incriminate you. You have the right to remain silent until your lawyer comes to speak for you.

How about traffic stops?

While driving, a police officer signals you to pull over. Should you pull over? Yes.
Being asked to pull over may be threatening or frightening even if you are innocent, but stay calm and just politely ask the police officer how you may help, the same way you asked the police officer who stopped you on the street.

You do not need to show your driver’s license, car registration, and other documents unless the police officer clearly requests for these.

You may also request to see the police officer’s ID or badge before you can give your identification papers.

What you should never do is to flee the police officer or ignore the signal to stop. This may incriminate you with the crime that is being suspected to have happened, is happening, or is about to happen.

The police officer may issue a verbal warning or sign a written citation during a traffic stop. Both are not traffic tickets, and so there is no need to worry about paying fines or worse, being put behind jail for a traffic violation. Warnings and citations are simply that — warnings.
At a later time, you can choose to respond to the citation with the help of your lawyer.
During a traffic stop and the police officer requests to search your vehicles, should you consent to a search?

You should not consent to a search. The most a police officer can do is to issue a citation and ask you and your passengers to step out of the car, whereupon he can inspect the car from outside.

If the police officer sees something inside your car that elevates his suspicion to a probable cause that you are involved in a crime, then he can search your car further, and chances are you will be detained.

Remember that at this point, you no longer have the right to resist detention. You have the right to remain silent until your lawyer arrives.

Home searches

Do police officers have the right to knock on your door and request to enter and search your home without a search warrant signed by a judge? No.

If they say they would like to ask you questions related to a crime they are investigating, politely cooperate by answering their questions through your door, or perhaps at the porch of your house.

The Constitution protects your rights against unlawful search and seizures in your abode. But there are instances when this protection is overturned and the police can search your home if they hear a gunfire or any indication that a crime is happening and they need to intervene.

Penalties for violating the Stop and Show ID statute in Utah

Under Utah law, you can be punished with Class B Misdemeanor if you fail to disclose your name. This could mean having to serve 180 days in jail plus paying $1900 in fines and surcharges. Probation conditions may apply if the court suspends jail time.

Remember, knowing and asserting your rights helps keep the balance in the criminal justice system and in a democracy.

More importantly, remember to call for a criminal defense lawyer to help you navigate the law and assure your utmost protection.

Contact Atty. Thomas Weber, Utah criminal defense lawyer, today.