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June 17, 2013

Susan asks…

Am I allowed to refuse when the police request Identification?

A few weeks ago, a small group and I took a full moon ride to Bear Mountain, in NY. Thinking there would be an amazing view from the peak up Perkins road we tried to ride up there, but found the gate down and the road closed (a sign there said it was only up dawn to dusk). So we hung out for a bit, discussing the evenings plans amongst other things.

After about 10 minutes, and park policeman (joined quickly by 3 state troopers) came over and started snooping around us and our bikes. Then he requested identification from all of us, and went and ran it through his computer system. We all complied and gave him ID, were cleared quickly, and off the snoopy policeman went. Seeing as how all we were doing was quite literally standing on the side of the road, minding our own business, I felt this an unreasonable invasion of privacy.

I’d like to know what to expect if I refused his request. Are American citizens required by law to carry Identification at all times, and present them to law enforcement on request?

Practically speaking, I know that should this request be refused, power trip policemen will just find (or fabricate) and excuse to harass us, issue tickets, or even arrest us, so it can be more trouble than it’s worth, but motorcycle riders get harassed so frequently by the police that I’m going to start refusing to present ID unless there’s a probable cause.

If anyone knows the current, pathetic condition of civil rights, please let me know if Americans can refuse the Stasi/Police, when they demand to see our Papers/Identification.

Thanks in advance for all responses.

For the record (since I know this will come up), everyone in the group had valid drivers licenses, no warrants, and bikes that were fully compliant with the law – meaning the registration, inspection, and insurance was valid and current.
For clarification’s sake: at that specific moment, none of us were engaged in an activity that required a license – the motorcycles were parked on a closed off-ramp, engines off, and we were standing there.

If I am to understand this correctly, should any law enforcement officer request to see identification for any reason or no reason at all, even while not engaged in an activity that requires a license, and I refuse, they can arrest me, take my fingerprints, and detain me until they decide to release me?
To suspect that a group of people taking a moment to discuss their plans for the rest of the evening upon arrival at a museum after it was closed were about to break in and rob the place is not reasonable. What we were doing was exactly the same, and I don’t believe our presence at the entrance to a closed road fulfills the condition to validate a Detention & Identification Check. This is highly subjective though.

Since this was an arbitrary, unwarranted demand to review our Identification Papers, and this practice was/is a routine characteristic of enforcement bodies in oppressive totalitarian regimes, the Stasi comparison on those grounds is legitimate. We’re supposed to be better than that, and anyone with a sense of justice should find these practices offensive.

Tim, even without the citation your response was the best of the bunch – enlightening about the standards used to establish grounds for detention. In future encounters I will remember the phrase: “Am I free to go?”

Administrator answers:

No you are not required to carry identification or identify yourself unless you are being detained based on reasonable suspicion (reasonable suspicion: is a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime) – Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

You and your friends were at the mouth of road that is closed during the hour of darkness. I assume a state park. Police officers from the park and state stop to inquire whether or not you have trespassed or are going to trespass on closed state property – reasonable suspicion.

Based on what you described it would appear you were being lawfully detained and are required to identify yourself to the satisfaction of the police or be arrested.

Your hyperbole about the New York State and Park Police being the equivalent to the East German secret police really undercuts your argument and credibility.

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