When Do You Need to Identify Yourself to a Police Officer in Missouri?
I’ve seen a ton of Facebook videos where a person is stopped by a police officer and the person stopped argues with the officer over whether or not that person is required to give the police officer his or her identification. Like any good legal answer, it depends. Let’s take a deeper look into when you are required to and when you are necessarily required to identify yourself to a police officer.
First off, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” without probable cause. Missouri also has its own Constitution which closely mimics the Federal Constitution stating “the people shall be secure in their persons, papers, homes, effects, and electronic communications and data, from unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Aside from probable cause, police officers also use the standard of reasonable suspicion. This is a lower standard than probable cause and is determined objectively. State v. Woods, 284 S.W.3d 630, 635 (Mo. App. 2009). Reasonable suspicion is also formed when the police officer has reasonable suspicion that a criminal activity is “afoot based on specific and articulable facts known to the officer making the stop.” State v. West, 58 S.W.3d 563, 568 (Mo. App. 2001).
So, if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” based on his own person opinion, you are required to identify yourself to the officer.
Example 1: You are pulled over for speeding. Well, you’ve broken the traffic laws and the officer has caught you breaking the law. The officer has a right and you are required to provide the officer with your identification.
Example 2: You are walking down the street on your way to the gas station to get a cup of coffee. An officer pulls up, gets out of his car and starts questioning you. Now, you haven’t don’t anything wrong and you’re just minding your own business walking down the street. The officer has no reason to stop you and you are not required to provide identification.
So, let’s say you’re in Example 2, what do you do? Well, the first think you’d want to find out is if you are detained or if you’re free to leave. When talking to a police officer, always, always, always be polite and respectful. I know it’s hard, especially when you haven’t committed a crime, but you need to be polite and respectful.
Police Officer: Hey you! Stop right there. What are you doing walking down this sidewalk in the middle of the afternoon?
You: Officer, am I being detained or am I free to leave?
Police Officer: Oh you’re a smart ass huh! Well you’re being detained, give me your identification.
You: Officer, I will be happy to comply with your demands, may I ask what I’m being detained for?
Police Officer: Give me your identification!
I know what you’re thinking, this is an extreme example right? Right! This happens more often than you imagine and you will either give up, due to the officer’s intimidation, and give him your identification or you’ll argue with him and you’ll be arrested. It’s easier to hand him your identification and comply with what the officer is asking, and then contact an attorney as soon as possible and see if you have a claim against the officer or his department for a violation of your Fourth Amendment Rights.
In sum, if an officer has a reasonable suspicion, based on his or her own articulable facts, that you are committing a crime or are about to commit a crime, then you are required to provide the officer with your identification. If you feel your rights have been violated by a police officer, contact Howard Law at (314) 325-9868 for immediate help.
About The Author
Evan M. Howard is the managing attorney for Howard Law, a St. Louis business law and criminal defense law firm based in Clayton, Missouri. Howard Law is focused on giving honest, quick and effective representation to all of its clients. With a background in business and experience dealing with tough criminal prosecution cases, Howard Law is ready to help guide you through your legal matter.