Do I Have to Show the Police My ID?

Several laws regulate whether you must identify yourself if police ask

Stop and Identify
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Do you have to show the police your ID? The answer depends on what is going on when the police ask for your identification. No law requires U.S. citizens to carry identification. However, identification is required if you drive a vehicle or fly on a commercial airline. So to answer this question, let's assume that driving a vehicle or flying on a commercial airline is not part of the scenario.

In the U.S., three types of interactions generally go on between police and citizens: consensual, detention, and arrest.

Consensual Interview

Police are allowed to speak to a person or ask a person questions at any time. They might do it to show that they are approachable and friendly or because they have reasonable suspicion (a hunch) or probable cause (facts) that the person is involved in a crime, has information concerning a crime, or has witnessed a crime.

People aren't required to provide legal identification or their name, address, age, or other personal information during a consensual interview. A person in a consensual interview is free to leave at any time. In most states, police officers are not required to inform people that they can leave. Because it's sometimes difficult to tell when interviews are consensual, people can ask the officer if they're free to go. If the answer is yes, then the exchange was more than likely consensual.

Detention: 'Terry Stops' and Stop and Identity Laws

People are considered detained when their freedom is removed. In most states, police can detain anyone under circumstances that reasonably indicate the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. These are generally referred to as "Terry Stops," referring to the standards established in the 1968 case Terry vs. Ohio. Whether individuals must provide personal identification under the Terry doctrine depends on individual state laws.

Many states now have "stop and identify" laws that require people to identify themselves when police have reasonable suspicion that they are engaged or about to engage in criminal activity. Under these laws, people who refuse to show identification can be arrested.

Under stop and identify laws in some states, people might be required to identify themselves but might not be required to answer additional questions or provide documents proving their identity.

Stop and identify laws exist in 24 states:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Missouri (Kansas City only)
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin


In all states, you must provide personal identification to the police if you are arrested. You might then invoke your right to silence.

Right to Silence

People detained by police have the right to refuse to answer any questions. They don't have to supply a reason for refusing to answer questions. People who wish to invoke their right to silence simply must say, "I want to speak to a lawyer" or "I wish to remain silent." In states with stop and identify laws that make it mandatory that people provide their identity, they must do so and then might invoke their right of silence regarding additional questions.

Reasonable Suspicion

To determine if police are asking you for ID because you are under "reasonable suspicion," politely ask the officers if they are detaining you or if you are free to go. If you are free to go and you don't want to divulge your identity, you can walk away. But if you are detained, you will be required by law in most states to identify yourself or risk arrest.

Pros and Cons of Showing ID

Showing your identification can quickly resolve cases of mistaken identity. However, in some states, if you are on parole you could be subjected to a legal search.