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No, you do not always have to acquiesce to a request from a peace officer for your identification. If you are asked for it, however, think through carefully for the reason why a peace officer may be asking you for it.

For example, if you are walking down a street away from a house fire on the same street, a peace officer might consider that suspicious. A natural reaction for most humans to any close-by house fire is to move towards it, trying to see what is going on, especially if it is on a street you live on. You are perfectly within your rights to walk where you want to, but you will likely be scrutinized for walking in the opposite direction, suggesting that you could be a possible suspect in setting the fire.

Driving a Car or Vehicle

If you are stopped while driving your car and asked for your identification, you better have your driver’s license on your person or in the car with you. This is not a time to be without a driver’s license or to feel like you want to exercise some type of misguided independence from a legal authority.

You have the right to not show ID, but the police may give you a difficult time until things can get cleared up

Show your driver’s license and find out what the vehicle stop is for. Do not forget the up-to-date paid vehicle insurance, tags, and registration that you should have.

Do not have open containers of alcohol in your car and certainly do not drink and drive either. Nor should you be smoking things not tobacco-related. Marijuana, while legal under certain conditions in California, is not legal when finding in your car unless it is sealed and stored in the vehicle’s trunk because you just bought it at a state-regulated supplier.

Cases of Mistaken Identity

This can happen to anyone, including you. Someone thought they saw you at the scene of a nearby shop-lifting occurrence. They swear on their dearly departed mother’s life that you are the one that did it. Yet, once CCTV recordings show that it was not you, then you have nothing to worry about.

The police walk up to you and ask you for your identification. Ask them first why they want to see it. Once they tell you what the problem is, you can either show them your identification or not. If you do not, you might be apprehended for questioning.

This is one of those grey areas where things can go one way or another. You have the right to not show ID, but the police may give you a difficult time until things can get cleared up.

Show ID California Law Voided on May 3, 1983

May 3rd in California, is the anniversary of a 1983 legal victory for the people of California in that the Supreme Court voided a California statute in place at that time, considering it unconstitutional in how it was constructed and construed. The case of Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352 became a landmark decision that carried over into other states too, when concerned with overbearing identification requests.

If you have been detained because you did not have identification, or would not show it, nor were you given a good explanation for why you were asked for it by police, call us at once.


Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong

Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm, the Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, in June 2007. In 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys. In 2017, he was also selected for the Super Lawyers Top 50 in San Diego list. In 2014, he was selected as a Top Attorney by Los Angeles Magazine. Additionally, Mr. Armstrong was also named as a Top Attorney by the San Diego Business Journal in 2014.

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