Do You Have to Identify Yourself to the Police?
This is a question that comes up a lot. People often want to know if an officer can compel a person to identify himself or herself for no reason, or if the individual can politely decline do so. Generally, you do not have to identify yourself to police officers, unless there is a reason. North Carolina does not have a “stop and identify statute”. Some states do have these laws; however, we are pleased to share that North Carolina does not. This means that if, for example, you are walking down the street, police cannot demand to know who you are or to see documentation of your identity. Of course, there are situations when police can require identification, which we will discuss later.
What if I am not doing anything wrong? Is an officer allowed to ask me my name for no reason?
Yes. An officer can and oftentimes will initiate voluntary contact with an individual. But that does not mean that you have to identify yourself or say anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. It also does not mean that you have to consent to a stop/seizure or a search if and when that comes up. If you are in a situation in which the officer can compel a stop/seizure or a search (which is different from an officer asking for consent), you will know it, as officers will make this fact pretty clear. If you do find yourself unsure of whether you are being asked to consent something, just ask the officer. He will certainly make it clear to you if you do not have the right to refuse something.
Please use common sense in any police encounter and remember that your safety should come first when asserting such rights as the one discussed in this blog.
When do I have to identify myself?
Of course, there are situations when police can require identification. For example, if you are operating a motor vehicle and are stopped by a police officer, you are required to produce your driver’s name/license/identification upon request. North Carolina General Statutes 20-90. Failure to do so is punished as a Class 2 misdemeanor. Additionally, in some cases, if you do not produce identification, you may be charged with resisting an officer, which is a Class 2 misdemeanor. This law applies to drivers of vehicles. It does not apply to passengers. Unless other circumstances exist, officers typically cannot require a passenger to produce identification during a traffic stop.
Other than traffic stops there are certain instances where you would be required to identify yourself, such during the course of a lawful arrest or active police investigation (depending on circumstances).
ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Inquiries – Do I have to identify myself to ICE?
ICE is no different than any other governmental agency, so the information set forth in this blog applies to ICE as well. For immigration information, visit here.
If you have been charged with a crime in North Carolina or South Carolina, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney to understand your options. Gilles Law has criminal defense lawyers licensed in both North Carolina and South Carolina, practicing both State criminal defense and Federal criminal defense.