21 June 2004. Thanks to E.

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Reuters, Mon Jun 21, 2004 11:49 AM ET

Top Court Rules People Must Give Police Their Names

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that people are required to identify themselves when asked to do so by police, and rejected arguments that it violates their constitutional rights to privacy and to remain silent.

By a 5-4 vote, the high court upheld a Nevada law that officers may detain individuals to find out their identity, based on reasonable suspicions of wrongdoing. People must identify themselves, but cannot be required to answer any other questions.

The ruling was a victory for the U.S. Justice Department and state officials who said forced identification represented a "minimal" intrusion on privacy rights, helped solve crimes and contributed to police and public safety.

The case involved Larry Hiibel, who was convicted of resisting an officer after refusing 11 times to give his name when Sheriff's Deputy Lee Dove questioned him on May 21, 2000, as he stood outside his parked truck in Humboldt County.

Based on a report from a witness, Hiibel was suspected of hitting his daughter, who was inside the truck. Hiibel also was suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, based on his eyes, mannerisms, speech and the smell of alcohol.

Hiibel told Dove he would cooperate, but refused to give his name because he said he did not believe he had done anything wrong. He was arrested, found guilty of the misdemeanor offense of resisting an officer and fined $250.

Hiibel appealed his conviction and argued his constitutional rights protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures and against self-incrimination had been violated.

But the Nevada Supreme Court upheld his conviction, ruled the law passed constitutional muster and said forced identification was a minimal intrusion outweighed by the government's interest in police safety.


The Supreme Court in a ruling by Justice Anthony Kennedy upheld that decision and said the officer's conduct did not violate Hiibel's constitutional rights.

Kennedy said state stop-and-identify laws often combine elements of traditional vagrancy laws with provisions intended to regulate police behavior during the course of investigatory stops.

Kennedy said the Nevada law was narrow and precise, requiring only that a suspect disclose his or her name. It does not require the suspect to produce a driver's license or any other document.

The court's liberal members, Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, dissented.

Stevens said that a person's identity could be incriminating. "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," he said.

Stevens said such information "can be tremendously useful in a criminal prosecution."

Civil liberties groups supported Hiibel and expressed concern about increased government intrusion on personal privacy. They warned a ruling for the government could lead to such measures as national identification cards.

© Reuters 2004. All Rights Reserved.