Police Can't Require ID

The following was a post to the Libernet e-mailing list by "Schirado" in the mid-1990s:

In response to Jeff Chan's horror about the California Supreme Court's recent idiocy regarding identification, I offer the following federal Supreme Court case. Federal beats State every time, when the subject matter is the derogation of rights secured by the Constitution.

Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979): "Two police officers, while cruising near noon in a patrol car, observed appellant and another man walking away from one another in an alley in an area that had a high incidence of drug traffic. They stopped and asked appellant to identify himself and explain what he was doing. One officer testified that he stopped appellant because the situation 'looked suspicious and we had never seen that subject in that area before.' The officers did not claim to suspect appellant of any specific misconduct, nor did they have any reason to believe that he was armed. When appellant refused to identify himself, he was arrested for violation of a Texas statute which makes it a criminal act for a person to refuse to give his name and address to an officer 'who has lawfully stopped him and requested the information.' Appellant's motion to set aside information charging him with violation of the statute on the ground that the statute violated the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth amendments was denied, and he was convicted and fined."

"HELD: The application of the Texas statute to detain appellant and require him to identify himself violated the Fourth Amendment because the officers lacked any reasonable suspicion to believe that appellant was engaged or had engaged in criminal conduct. Detaining appellant to require him to identify himself constituted a seizure of his person subject to the requirement of the Fourth Amendment that the seizure be 'reasonable.' Cf. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1; ... Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648. Here, the state does not contend that appellant was stopped pursuant to a practice embodying neutral criteria, and the officer's actions were not justified on the ground that they had a reasonable suspicion, based on objective facts, that he was involved in criminal activity. Absent any basis for suspecting appellant of misconduct, the balance between the public interest in crime prevention and appellant's right to personal security and privacy tilts in favor of freedom from police interference."

Pp. 50-53. - Mr. Chief Justice Burger delivered the opinion of the court. - "This appeal presents the question whether appellant was validly convicted for refusing to comply with a policeman's demand that he identify himself pursuant to a provision of the Texas Penal Code which makes it a crime to refuse such identification on request." - "Appellant refused to identify himself and angrily asserted that the officers had no right to stop him." - "The Fourth Amendment, of course, 'applies to all seizures of the person, including seizures that involve only a brief detention short of traditional arrest.' Davis v. Mississippi, 394 U.S. 721 (1969); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16-19 (1968). '[W]henever a police officer accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away, he has 'seized' that person...and the fourth Amendment requires that the seizure be "reasonable."' U.S. v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975)" - "We need not decide whether an individual may be punished for refusing to identify himself in the context of a lawful investigatory stop which satisfies Fourth Amendment requirements. See Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200,210 n.12 (1979); Terry v. Ohio ... the county judge who convicted appellant was troubled by this question, as shown by the colloquy set out in the appendix to this opinion." - "Accordingly, appellant may not be punished for refusing to identify himself, and the conviction is Reversed."

Appendix to the opinion of the court

"THE COURT:...What do you think about if you stop a person lawfully, and then if he doesn't want to talk to you, you put him in jail for committing a crime?"

"MR. PATTON [prosecutor]: Well first of all, I would question the defendant's statement in his motion that the first amendment gives an individual the right to silence."

"THE COURT:...I'm asking you why should the State put you in jail because you don't want to say anything?"

"MR. PATTON: Well, I think there's certain interests that have to be viewed."

"THE COURT: Okay, I'd like you to tell me what those are."

"MR. PATTON: Well, the Governmental interest to maintain the safety and security of the society and the citizens to live in the society, and there are certainly strong Governmental interests in that direction and because of that, these interests outweigh the interests of an individual for a certain amount of intrusion upon his personal liberty. I think these Governmental interests outweigh the individual's interests in this respect, as far as simply asking an individual for his name and address under the proper circumstances."

"THE COURT: But why should it be a crime to not answer?"

"MR. PATTON: Again, I can only contend that if an answer is not given, it tends to disrupt."

"THE COURT: What does it disrupt?"

"MR. PATTON: I think it tends to disrupt the goal of this society to maintain security over its citizens to make sure they are secure in their gains and their homes."

"THE COURT: How does that secure anybody by forcing them, under penalty of being prosecuted, to giving their name and address, even though they are lawfully stopped?"

"MR. PATTON: Well I, you know, under the circumstances in which some individuals would be lawfully stopped, it's presumed that perhaps this individual is up to something, and the officer is doing his duty simply to find out the individual's name and address, and to determine exactly what is going on."

"THE COURT: I'm not questioning, I'm not asking whether the officer shouldn't ask questions. I'm sure they should ask everything they possibly could find out. What I'm asking is what's the State's interest in putting a man in jail because he doesn't want to answer something. I realize lots of times an officer will give a defendant a Miranda warning which means a defendant doesn't have to make a statement. Lots of defendants go ahead and confess, which is fine if they want to do that. But if they don't confess, you can't put them in jail, can you, for refusing to confess to a crime?"