Civil Liberties

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ID demands DOA?


The Supreme Court is once again considering the nuances of when it's OK to arrest an American citizen simply for refusing to show a cop an ID.

The case, Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, involves a Nevada man, Larry Hiibel, who was approached by an officer on the suspicion, generated by a phone tip, that he had struck a woman in his parked truck. Hiibel refused to show his ID and was arrested under a Nevada statute that says an officer may detain anyone he reasonably thinks has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, and that "any person so detained shall identify himself."

Circuit courts have differed on whether mere refusal to identify oneself can be considered a criminal act. Various parts of past Supreme Court cases lean toward Hiibel's side of the argument, but it's not clear whether he'll prevail.

In an age of multiplying linked databases in the hands of police, such as the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, the simple act of identifying oneself to an officer becomes much more complicated. As the Electronic Privacy Information Center wrote in its amicus brief in this case, "a name is no longer a simple identifier: it is the key to a vast, cross-referenced system of public and private databases, which lay bare the most intimate features of an individual's life. If any person can be coerced by the state to hand over this key to the police, then the protections of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments have been rendered illusory."

A victory for Hiibel could overthrow laws in Nevada and at least 23 other states that allow officers to demand identification from anyone they stop under reasonable suspicion.