Here is another question—complaint actually—that I hear often (usually from someone who just received a resisting arrest charge on top of marijuana possession): do cops have a right to ask for my ID if I haven’t done anything wrong?
Let’s take a look at what the Constitution says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The right to be secure in your papers has been translated by our courts to mean your identification. In other words, without probable cause the police officer has no right to ask you for your ID. Having no right to do so without probable cause means that he had no right—yes, I’m repeating myself. “Having no right” and “doing it anyway” is where most of you will get into trouble. Cops are well aware that most of you could not spit out your rights under the Constitution and that most of you aren’t going to lawyer up, as they say. So, they will ask for you ID.
Now, what comes after the asking is very important to what will ultimately happen to you. If you say something like: I don’t gotta show you my ID. The cop may lie and tell you that you do or he may make up probable cause and force you to show it and if you don’t comply that’s resisting arrest. The best approach is to calmly ask him: what is the “probable cause” for asking (you) to produce the license? What does he think you’ve done wrong? If there is nothing applicable to your situation you do not have to produce and it should remind him of your rights under the Constitution.
Remember, you do have the right to be secure in your papers, but you have to be smart about it. Decide what is worth it.
Lastly, if this is a road stop or check point where everyone is being asked to produce a license you’re stuck. Just get it ready, be polite and try not to have weapons, drugs, or other illegal items in your vehicle.