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

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

 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.


DISCLAIMER – This forum is intended for general questions and comments about the particular law or topic. Comments are public and are not protected by confidentiality or attorney-client privilege; therefore, they can be used against you in court. Please refrain from revealing your identify or specifics about any actual criminal case. No attorney-client relationship is created in this forum.

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