- The Washington Times - Monday, June 21, 2004

The Supreme Court yesterday in a 5-4 ruling upheld a Nevada law that requires people to identify themselves to police officers or face arrest.

The decision puts new limits on constitutional rights by requiring people to cooperate with police officers even if they are not suspected or charged in a crime.

Privacy-rights advocates had argued against the law, saying the power gives police the right to force people to submit to fingerprinting or to divulge other, more private information.

Proponents, including the Nevada Supreme Court, which refused 4-3 to overturn the 2000 conviction of Larry “Dudley” Hiibel using the law, argued that identification requests by police were a routine part of detective work, including efforts to get information on potential terrorists.

Mr. Hiibel, a Nevada cattle rancher, was arrested and convicted on a misdemeanor after refusing to tell his name or show identification to a sheriff’s deputy responding to a potential assault call.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said granting police the right to obtain a person’s identification in the course of “a Terry stop serves important government interests.” A Terry stop refers to a 1968 Ohio case giving police the authority to briefly detain and question a person to either confirm or deny a “reasonable suspicion” that the person was involved in criminal activity.

Also voting with the majority were Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that Mr. Hiibel “acted well within his rights when he opted to stand mute.” Others who disagreed with the majority were Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

In the Hiibel case, the rancher was standing next to his truck along the highway when approached by a Humboldt County, Nev., sheriff’s deputy, who demanded identification. According to a videotape transcript of the incident from the deputy’s squad car, the deputy said there had been a report of a fight and repeatedly asked to see the man’s identification.

When Mr. Hiibel refused, telling the deputy he would cooperate but had done nothing wrong, he was arrested. Nevada’s “stop and identify ” statute requires persons detained by an officer under suspicious circumstances to identify themselves.

The state intermediate appellate court affirmed the conviction, rejecting Mr. Hiibel’s argument that the state law’s application to his case violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the lower court decision.

In March, Mr. Hiibel’s attorney, Robert E. Dolan, deputy Nevada state public defender, argued that his client’s arrest was “illegal and unreasonable,” and asked that his misdemeanor conviction and $250 fine be overturned. He told the court Mr. Hiibel was arrested and convicted of a crime “simply because he did not identify himself or provide identity.”

Mr. Dolan said his client was standing at the passenger side of his truck along a highway when approached by a deputy and asked if he knew anything about a fight in the area, telling the officer he did not. He said the deputy then asked for his identification, and Mr. Dolan refused.

Conrad Hafen, chief deputy district attorney in Las Vegas, argued that there were three reasons why compelling a lawfully detained person to identify himself was reasonable: It is a minimal intrusion, it advances officer safety, and it promotes effective law enforcement in the prevention and detection of crime.

“Furthermore,” he told the court, “it does not violate the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination because identifying yourself is a neutral act.”

Some of Mr. Hiibel’s supporters, including the Cato Institute and American Civil Liberties Union, filed briefs on his behalf, saying the case — if not overturned — might set a precedent requiring Americans to carry identification at all times.

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