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January 6, 2004 8:00 PM   Subscribe

ID Required? Are you required to show an ID to a policeman? What about car searches? (more inside)

This is all pertaining to the good USA:

Recently at a party the police came and everyone was required to show an ID that the police could write down and check (presumably) if you are wanted for anything or on probation. I always wondered the legality of it but was too afraid of saying "I don't have to show you an ID" in fear the cop would bust me for something I didn't do just for talking back. I know we don't have a national ID system (well an official one), so I don't see why cops expect everyone to have an ID.

Also when talking to a lawyer friend I asked if cops are allowed to search your car without probable cause. Say I was just speeding or didn't use my blinker properly, the cop pulls me over and asks if he can see the trunk. The lawyer friend said that legally cops can't do that without probable cause (smelling marijuana smoke, etc.). If they find anything he said, it wouldn't be admissable into court -- but that's very tenuous as the cops would most likely "remember" something that was probable cause.

Not that I have any worries about this but such small legal things really bug me when cops expect you to do something and was wondering if any MeFis have experience or knowledge of personal rights when it comes to sitautions as these.
posted by geoff. to Law & Government (4 answers total)
The ACLU has a handy pocket card for these very occasions.

As far as I know, you don't have to show ID, unless you're driving, but expect to be harassed if you show any attitude, if the cop's having a bad day, or if it's a Thursday. A lawyer would be able to tell you for sure, and I'm not one.
posted by majcher at 8:53 PM on January 6, 2004

<IANAL>If you are not driving a car, then the police cannot require you to identify yourself or show ID, and your refusal cannot be used as a component of probable cause for search or arrest. Of course, if the PO has probable cause to believe that you committed some other crime, and you refuse to identify yourself, he can and will arrest you for that actual crime.

They can certainly ask you if they can look in your trunk, but again, unless they have probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime within, they can't do so if you refuse permission. But, if they can impound the car for any other reason - a reasonable belief that you're intoxicated, for example - then they get to "inventory" the contents to make sure nothing gets lost heh heh and anything they happen to find is admissable.

So, yes, the Fourth Amendment gives you the right to refuse to identify yourself or allow your possessions to be searched. But it's not worth the hassle unless you really have something to hide.</IANAL>
posted by nicwolff at 9:00 PM on January 6, 2004

The constitutionality of police requiring identification is actually an unanswered question of law. In fact, there's a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court right now in which the Justices will likely answer that very question. Here is the Nevada Supreme Court case under review, and here is a summary of the case with links to all the briefs filed thus far. That last link, from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, also has links to a number of interesting academic articles on the subject, which should keep you busy for awhile.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:37 AM on January 7, 2004

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