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U.S. Supreme Court Decides Police Can Compel Suspects To Identify Themselves - Sometimes

Posted on Aug 27, 2009
The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada and resolved a question that has long begged for an answer: Can a person stopped on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity (known as a "Terry Stop") be compelled, on pain of criminal prosecution, to identify himself? The Supreme Court said "yes," but then qualified its holding with confusing caveats that will cause considerably more litigation than the issue it resolved. 

In the past, the Courts have held that "stop and identify" statutes that are not based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity are unconstitutional. However, in Hiibel, the Court ruled that the stop was justified based upon reasonable suspicion under the Terry v. Ohio rationale. Nevada Courts have held that a suspect does not have to produce any identification but must tell the officer his or her name.

The Court concluded that the minimal intrusion of asking someone to identify himself, without more, in this case was not a constitutional violation.

The Court recognized the fact that in some situations providing identification may give the police a link to criminal activity by the suspect. Justice Breyer wondered how a police officer in the midst of a "Terry stop" is to distinguish between the majority's ordinary case and the special case where providing a name may be incriminating.