Do I Have to Show the Police My ID?

Understanding Terry Stops and Stop and Identify Laws

Stop and Identify
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Do I have to show the police my ID? The answer depends on what is going on when the police ask for your identification. There is no law requiring U.S. citizens to carry any identification. However, identification is required if you drive a vehicle or fly with a commercial airline. So to answer this question, we will assume that driving a vehicle or flying on a commercial airline is not part of the scenario.

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

Consensual Interview

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

A person is not required to provide legal identification or tell their name, address, age or other personal information during a consensual interview.

When a person is in a consensual interview, he free to leave at any time. In most states, police officers are not required to inform the person that they can leave. Since it is sometimes difficult to tell when a consensual interview is being conducted, the person can ask the officer if they are free to go. If the answer is yes, then the exchange was more than likely consensual.

Detention - Terry Stops and Stop and Identity Laws

Terry Stops

A person is detained when their freedom of liberty is removed. In most states, police may detain anyone under circumstances which reasonably indicate that the person has committed, is committing or is about to commit a crime. These are generally referred to as Terry Stops. It depends on individual state laws as to whether or not it is required that individuals provide personal identification under the doctrine of Terry.

Stop and Identify Laws

Many states now have "stop and identify" laws which require that a person identify themselves to police when the police have reasonable suspicion that the person has engaged or is about to engage in criminal activity. Under the law, if the person refuses to show identification under these circumstances, they can be arrested.  (Hiibel v. Nevada, U.S. Sup. Ct. 2004.)

In some states, under the stop and identify laws, a person may be required to identify themselves, but may not be required to answer any additional questions or provide a document proving their identity.

There are 24 states that have some variation of stop and identify laws: 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, and Wisconsin. 

Right to Silence

When a person is detained by the police, they have the right to refuse to answer any questions. They do not have to supply any reason for refusing to answer questions.  A person who wishes to invoke their right to silence simply needs to say, "I want to speak to a lawyer" or "I wish to remain silent." However, in states with stop and identify laws that make it mandatory that people provide their identity, they must do so and then, if they so choose, invoke their right of silence regarding any additional questions.

Determining If You Are Under Reasonable Suspicion

How will you know if the police are asking you for ID because you are under "reasonable suspicion?" Politely ask the officer if they are detaining you or if you are free to go. If you are free to go and you do not want to divulge your identity walk away. But if you are detained you will then be required by law (in most states) to identify yourself or risk arrest.


In all states, it is required that you provide your personal identification to the police when you are arrested. You may then invoke your right to silence.

The Pros and Cons of Showing Your 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.