Do You Have to Identify Yourself to Police Officers in NC?

by | Aug 2, 2018 | Blog Posts, NC Criminal Defense, NC Traffic | 6 comments

 lawDo you have to identify yourself to the police/show them your identification? 

Do you have to identify yourself to the police and show them your identification for no reason? 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 specific reason (see below). 

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a criminal defense lawyer. This blog reflects the law as of the date that this blog was published.

Stop and Identify Statutes

There is no federal law that requires individuals to carry an I.D. In 24 states (as of the date of this blog). However, in some states, police may stop an individual and require them to identify themselves if the officers has reasonable suspicion that the individual is involved in a crime. This is known as a “stop and identify statute”. North Carolina is NOT one of those 24 states.

North Carolina does not have a “stop and identify statute”. This means that if, for example, you are walking down the street, police cannot stop you and 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 a law enforcement officer allowed to ask me my name for no reason?

In North Carolina, a law enforcement officer cannot detain a person without reasonable suspicion that that person is committing a crime.

However, an officer can and oftentimes will initiate voluntary contact (AKA consensual encounter) 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 do NOT have to engage in a purely voluntary contact. Note, however that when there is reasonable suspicion of a crime, officers can typically utilize a stop/seizure, which you must heed if it is a lawful stop. If you are in a situation in which the officer can compel a stop/seizure (which is different from an officer asking for consent), you will know it, as officers will tend make this fact pretty clear. If you do find yourself unsure of whether you are being asked to consent to something, just ask the officer. Be careful, however, because law enforcement officers are trained to phrase things in a manner that makes it seem as though you do not have the right to refuse consent. It is best to speak in clear terms such as: “Am I being detained, or am I free to leave?” Finally, while we are on the topic of consent, it is typically extremely unwise to consent to warrantless search. If an officer does not need your consent to search, he probably won’t “ask” for it. 

***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 you have to identify yourself?

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, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 60 days in jail. Additionally, in some cases, if you do not produce identification, you may be charged with resisting an officer, which is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 60 days in jail. This law applies to drivers of vehicles. It does not apply to passengers.

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).

Passengers in a traffic stop

Unless other circumstances exist, law enforcement officers typically cannot require a passenger to produce identification during a traffic stop in North Carolina. Further, passengers are generally not required to verbally identify themselves.

 

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. 

  

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.

 

6 Comments

  1. Michael McCaskill

    Each time I walk out of Walmart AFTER making a purchase and with receipt, a company rep wants to see my receipt. The last time I was told I am required to show my receipt and failure to do so will lead to my detainment. Is there a requirement to produce a receipt after I make a purchase. I normally tell the representative that I’m not showing it and if they have a suspicion of theft…arrest me!

    Reply
    • Gilles Law

      Private stores, such as Walmart, are generally permitted to freely implement the policies and procedures that it chooses. While the polices cannot violate state or federal law, private stores do not have the same constitutional considerations as governmental agencies. Note that a Walmart costumer representative is not generally considered a “state actor.”

      As far as whether a Walmart representative can detain a person, the general rule in North Carolina is that in certain circumstances, a merchant may detain a person whom he suspects is a shoplifter, as long as the detention is done in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time.

      Reply
  2. Leticia

    My brother was walking home at 3 am with his cousin. To get home they have to pass a gas station and a store. As they were passing the gas station a cop stops them and asks them for their name my brother withheld his name and my cousin was asked were he was born if in the U.S. my brother told the police officer he didn’t have to tell him his name as they are just walking home and the police officer starts to hit my brother while 3 cops are taking him down my cousin gives me a call and I hear him tell the cop you don’t have to kick him and then I hear the phone drop. I rush over to where they are and I see my cousin on the floor with 3 cops around him picking him up. He had to go to the hospital because they broke his nose and he has bruises all over his face and body. Should we get a lawyer?

    Reply
    • Gilles Law

      There is not sufficient information here to advise you on whether you may benefit from seeking legal counsel. If your issue occurred in the Charlotte, NC area, feel free to give our office a call (980-272-8438) for more information.

      Reply
    • John

      I was hanging around a gas station waiting for an Uber. The manager walked outside and told me that I couldn’t “hang out over here.” I thought she was talking about the side of the gas station building rather than the gas station as a whole. I walked inside the gas station to use the restroom and get a snack. She saw me go inside and waved down some officers that were already in the parking lot and told them that I refused to leave. They came inside and approached me right as I was getting a hot dog. They asked for my ID but I told him that I did not have to carry one because I was not driving. I asked them if I was free to go and they said no. The crime they suspected me of committing was trespassing. They said that they were investigating that so I had to identify myself. Is that true? Did I have to identify myself in that situation? Trying to figure out the difference between stop and identify States versus non stop and identify States.

      Reply
  3. keith murray

    So I was stopped at a ID checkpoint in roseville, NC. Since when did it become law for police to set up these checkpoints and do I have to show ID. I think its absolute BS

    Reply

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