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Fighting for Right Not to Show ID

Wired writes about the case of a Nevada rancher who covets his privacy. Dudley Hiibel refused to hand over his identification to a police officer in 2000, an act which landed him in jail and his name on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket.

At issue in the case, which will be heard March 22, is whether individuals stopped during an investigation of a possible crime must identify themselves to the police. Nevada state law says that individuals must do so if a police officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or will be committed.

Hiibel’s attorneys argue that in such situations, known as Terry stops, individuals already have the right to not answer questions and that requiring individuals to show identification violates the Fourth and Fifth Amendments’ protections against unreasonable searches and self-incrimination.

The case runs as follows: Police responded to a report of an altercation between Hiibel and his daughter in Hiibel’s pickup parked on the side of the road. Hiibel was outside the pickup when deputies arrived and asked for his identification before asking about the alleged fight. A tape of the incident shows Hiibel refused 11 requests to produce identification, after which the deputy arrested him for impeding a police officer.

Police then arrested Hiibel’s daughter, Mimi, when she protested the arrest of her father. Both her charge of resisting arrest and the domestic violence charges against Hiibel were later dismissed. He was, however, found guilty of obstructing a police officer and fined $250, but the public defenders on the case appealed the conviction to a district court and the Nevada Supreme Court. Hiibel said:

I feel quite strongly I have a right to remain silent and I didn’t commit a crime. (The deputy) demanded my papers. I exerted my rights as a free American and I was cuffed and taken to jail.

Harriet Cummings, one of three Nevada public defenders working on the case, said that while the case might seem like “no big deal,” the legal issues at stake are huge.

This goes to the very nature of what our society is going to be like. We believe that exercising your right to remain silent should not be something that can cause you to be imprisoned.

If an officer acting under suspicion that a crime has been committed comes up to a person, starts asking questions and demands identification, and if the person, as Mr. Hiibel did, declines that demand, they can be hauled off to jail. And we think that is not something that should happen in a free society.

Solicitor General’s Office and the National Association of Police Organizations also filed briefs supporting the identification requirement, arguing that it was a necessary and not overly intrusive tool in fighting crime and terrorism. Here we have it, crime and terrorism wheeled out yet again…

Though the hearing is still weeks away, the case is already being widely debated in the blogosphere, thanks to the publicity efforts of privacy advocate Bill Scannell.

And on the topic of databases and governments – the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s brief ties the identification requirement to large-scale law enforcement databases, such as the FBI’s criminal database. The problem, according to EPIC staff attorney Marcia Hofmann, is not just that a police officer can use a driver’s license to pull up reams of data on a person from massive databases. It’s also that the encounter itself will be added to the system, Hofmann said.

Every little time something like this happens, the police question you and want to know who you are, it’s an incident that gets put into a database. And there will be a record of it thereafter, regardless of whether you did anything wrong.


1 comment to Fighting for Right Not to Show ID

  • This is a huge fundamental issue.

    If you accept that the police can ask for your ID at any time, you accept the primacy of the state over the individual.