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Do you have to identify yourself to police in California?

On Behalf of | Jun 28, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

A police officer asks you for your identification. You have it on you, but being stopped and asked like this still rubs you the wrong way. It feels like a violation of your right to freely live your life. 

So, what do you have to do, in a legal sense? Are you required to comply with the officer and give them your identification, or can you deny the request on the grounds that there’s no reason for it anyway? 

California law does not require you to identify yourself

These types of legal questions are not based, as some assume, on the Fourth Amendment. Instead, they come down to state law. 

For instance, states like Nevada and Florida have made it so that people who are stopped with reasonable suspicion do have to provide ID when asked to do so by the police. These cases have even gone to the Supreme Court, but they’ve been upheld on the grounds that state laws are in place. 

In California, there is only one situation where such a law exists: The law does require drivers to have a valid license and, if stopped for a traffic violation, they must provide that license to the police. 

However, in all other situations, you are not legally required to identify yourself to the police. You can refuse to do so. If the officer arrests you only for refusing to identify yourself, that arrest is likely unlawful and the validity of it can be fought in court. 

Exploring your legal options after an arrest

Just knowing your rights doesn’t mean you will never get arrested. If you do, it’s very important to understand all of the legal options you have to mount a successful defense.