The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a Nevada law that requires individuals to identify themselves to police when asked.
June 30, 2004
A recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court affects many existing “know-yourrights” brochures and pamphlets for immigrants.
The Court upheld a Nevada law that authorizes police officers to detain individuals whom they encounter under suspicious circumstances and who refuse to identify themselves when asked to do so. The Court’s ruling, Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, Humboldt County, No. 03-5554 (June 21, 2004), is very narrow, relying on the limited reach of the Nevada statute, which applies only to situations in which an officer reasonably suspects that a crime has been or is being committed, and which requires the individual who is stopped to provide his or her name. Importantly, the Nevada statute does not require the individual to show any document or answer any other question.
The decision does not resolve whether a statute that required presentation of a driver’s license or other identity documents would be constitutional. Nor does the decision require that a suspect identify him or herself in every case; the Court recognized that there may be cases where just giving one’s name may constitute selfincrimination. Four justices dissented from the ruling.
For immigration purposes, it is important to stress the ruling’s limited scope. Immigrants who are stopped by police and asked to identify themselves, in jurisdictions with laws that require them to do so, generally now must provide their names, but the ruling requires nothing further. Because it is difficult to know with certainty whether one is in a location where a state law (or even a county ordinance) requires a suspect to provide his or her name to the police, it is safest to assume that one must. However, the ruling does not apply to questioning by the Border Patrol and other immigration officers, as they have no authority to enforce state or local laws.