Supreme Court rules you can be arrested for withholding your name

The Columbian


WASHINGTON -- A police officer can force a person to identify himself, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case involving a Nevada rancher who was fined $250 for refusing to give his name to an officer who was investigating a possible assault.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices said that as long as an officer reasonably suspects wrongdoing is under way, the state law under which the rancher was charged does not violate either the Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures or the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The ruling essentially validates more than a dozen "stop-and-identify" statutes nationwide.

"Asking questions is an essential part of police investigations," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court. "In the ordinary course, a police officer is free to ask a person for identification without implicating the Fourth Amendment."

The four dissenting justices, all from the liberal wing of the court, said the ruling broke with court precedent that had permitted people detained in brief police stops not to give their names.

The case was brought by Larry Hiibel, who was questioned in May 2000 by a sheriff's deputy in Humboldt County, Nev., after the sheriff's department received a call that a man was assaulting a woman in a red-and-silver truck. The deputy found Hiibel standing outside a truck parked by the side of the road that matched that description. A young woman who turned out to be Hiibel's daughter was in the truck.

The deputy tried to get Hiibel to give his name. Hiibel refused. Hiibel, who owns a small ranch outside of Winnemucca, Nev., said he believed he had done nothing wrong and that there was no reason to reveal his identity. Hiibel was convicted of willfully obstructing an officer and was fined.

Civil libertarians and groups representing the homeless were among those siding with Hiibel.

The court's majority said that laws such as Nevada's could benefit individuals and police.

"Knowledge of identity may inform an officer that a suspect is wanted ..." Kennedy wrote, and also "help clear a suspect and allow the police to concentrate their efforts elsewhere."

Kennedy was joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Dissenting were John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

Stevens, writing only for himself, said the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent should protect a person from having to give his or her name. "A name can provide the key to a broad array of information about the person, particularly in the hands of a police officer with access to a range of law-enforcement databases."

The other dissenters focused on Fourth Amendment protections for those who are stopped briefly. They said people should not be compelled to respond to police questions during such stops.



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