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Court says police can require ID

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Tuesday | Jun 22, 2004 Last Update 11:48 pm
Court says police can require ID
Nevada rancher loses his case: Civil liberties groups say justices’ decision is a defeat for privacy.

Martha Bellisle (more stories by author)
6/21/2004 11:48 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday against a Nevada rancher, upholding a state law that allows police to arrest people for refusing to identify themselves in a narrow decision that drew sharp criticism from civil liberties groups.

The deputy sheriff who arrested Larry “Dudley” Hiibel of Winnemucca on a rural road in May 2000 did not violate Hiibel’s Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights, the justices said in a 5-4 decision.

Hiibel could not immediately be reached for comment.

Conrad Hafen, a senior deputy attorney general who argued the case for the state, praised the ruling.

“The Supreme Court has taken this issue and balanced the right of the citizen to not give their name against the need of law enforcement to have the name,” Hafen said.

Law enforcement needs to identify suspects to find out if they have an outstanding warrant against them or whether they have a history of violence against officers, he said.

“It’s an issue of officer safety,” he said.

But State Public Defender Steven McGuire said the ruling will hurt all citizens.

“A Nevada cowboy courageously fought for his right to be left alone, but lost,” he said in a statement.

“We believe the court’s holding erodes the belief in the right to privacy cherished by so many Americans,” McGuire added. “The court’s ruling represents a loss not only for Larry Dudley Hiibel, but for the constitutional liberties of all citizens of this great nation.”

Hiibel was arrested after a confrontation beside his 1988 GMC pickup with Humboldt County Sheriff’s Deputy Lee Dove. Hiibel was standing outside the truck smoking a cigarette, and his adult daughter was inside the cab, when Dove pulled up and said he had received a report that the two had been fighting.

Dove asked Hiibel 11 times to show his identification, but Hiibel refused.

He was arrested and convicted of resisting an officer by refusing to show his identification, a misdemeanor. He was fined $250.

Hiibel appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court, but when the state court ruled against him, he took his case to the nation’s highest court.

Monday’s ruling followed a 1968 decision in the case of Terry v. Ohio, which said that officers may detain people when they have “probable cause” to believe they have committed a crime.

During such “Terry stops,” officers have the right to ask questions about the person’s identity, the court said.

But, the court said, “it has been an open question whether the suspect can be arrested and prosecuted for refusal to answer.”

In Monday’s ruling, the justices settled that question.

“The Nevada statute is consistent with Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures because it properly balances the intrusion on the individual’s interests against the promotion of legitimate government interests,” said Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority.

But Justice John Paul Stevens, writing the dissenting opinion, said “a person’s identity obviously bears informational and incriminating worth.”

“As the target of that investigation, (Hiibel), in my view, acted well within his rights when he opted to stand mute,” Stevens wrote.

Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said the group was disappointed.

“It’s a very big step in the wrong direction,” he said. “It’s getting away from the basic right to be let alone without government interference.”

Gary Peck, the group’s executive director, said the ruling is one of many high court decisions that are restricting civil liberties.

“This opinion is part of a broader trend that is chipping away at the fundamental right to be left alone by government unless there is a good reason not to do so.”

“That should be of great concern to anyone who believes in civil liberties in general and the Fourth Amendment and privacy in particular,” he said.

But Reno police Assistant Chief Jim Weston said it would help officers protect citizens.

“It’s nice to have as a backup, to have that authority,” he said. “It’s not an earthshaking decision — our rules and guidelines are strict on this. But it’s nice to have that in your arsenal, to know you can go a few extra steps to get identification from somebody.”

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