I refused to identify myself to the cops and was subsequently arrested. Was I wrong?

I did something seemingly stupid earlier tonight and was arrested and cited for it. I’d like to hear some opinions on whether this was justified. I’m going to try to tell the story as fairly as I can, but of course, this is told from my perspective and some degree of bias may be unavoidable. Here’s the situation…

A friend and I went out for a few drinks earlier tonight. She had a few and I had two, both of which I finished before midnight. At 1:30 am, we decided to go to a park for a while to chill and sober up a bit. (This is not a DUI story.)

I drove us to a small neighborhood park nearby, parked the car and started hanging around some picnic tables. We weren’t making a scene or anything, just sitting there chatting. She was lying down on a table and I was standing on one of the benches. After five to ten minutes, a black and white police car drove by and lit us up with its searchlight… the car slowly circled around the park, the light shining on us the whole time, and eventually it came right up to us (there was a driveway leading into the park). One of the officers got out of the car.

He approached us cautiously and politely asked us what we’re doing there. We told him that we were just hanging out. He asked me to get down from the bench, which I did, and he explained that there’s been a few stabbings and other complaints in the area lately and he’s just doing his job and checking us out. He asked to search me, and I said ok. He asked me whether I was carrying any weapons, and I told him I had a small knife on me. I took it out and put it on the table for him, as he asked. Then he patted me down, found nothing (there really was nothing else) and everything seemed cool. He decided not to search my female friend. So he seemed content, was about to leave and asked for my friend’s name (just for his record, I’m guessing?) and she gave it to him. Then he asked me for my name, and that’s when the trouble started.

Instead of giving it to him, I asked “Why do you want to know?” He said something along the lines of “I’m just doing my job. You’re not in trouble or anything… just give me your name and I’ll be off” (my paraphrase). I again asked him why he needed to know if I had committed no crime, and he repeated something very similar – basically, that he just wanted to know. He asked me whether I had my license with me, I told him I left it in my parked car (which was true).

Around this time, his partner came out of the car and approached us as well. He asked the same question, I refused again, asking why they needed my identity or documents. He said they were asking for it and so I must cooperate. I said that didn’t seem fair, we were just hanging around trying to sober up. He said the park was closed. I said okay, we’re sorry, we didn’t know (we really didn’t) and we’ll leave. But they still wanted my identity. I refused to provide it, asking the same question once more. He repeated that the park was closed and that being there constituted a misdimeanor, and further, the knife that I carried constituted another misdemeanor offense in that particular city. The first cop came up to me and, in a seemingly sincere and friendly tone, said “Hey man, what’s the problem? Are you drunk? High? Do you have weed on you or a warrant or something? Don’t worry about that, man, we’re not here for that… we’re just here doing our jobs because there’s been a few transients and gangbangers here lately. But you’re good people. Just give us your name and we’ll be gone… no trouble.”

I repeated that it seemed unfair that we were forced to produce our identities without having done anything wrong and having cooperated fully. In my head, I thought “If staying at the park late and the small knife were so minor that they weren’t even going to care about them, well, they really don’t think we’ve done anything wrong and thus don’t need our identity.” At that point the second cop was getting impatient and asked me, forcefully, one more time to give my name or driver’s license. I refused. The first cop pulled out his tazer, told me to stand up, turn around, and put my hands behind my back or get tazered. I complied, he put his tazer away, and handcuffed me without incident. He walked me to the police car, asked me to bend over the trunk, and I complied. He once again approached me using the friendly tone and asked me “Come on, dude, why are you doing this? Do you have warrants? Weed?” I said no. “Ever been arrested before?” “No.” “Then why do you want this on your record, man? This doesn’t have to be hard. Come on.”

I still refused. He searched me again, more thoroughly this time, emptied my pockets and removed my belt. He walked me over to the other side of the car and his partner came over and said “Okay, now we’re just playing games. Arrest him.” So they escorted me into the back seat and I complied. The first cop, shaking his head, asked “Why, man, why? We have to take you to jail for this now.” I answered, “I told you. It just seems unfair.” “Once last chance, man. It doesn’t have to be this hard.” I refused. “Jail then.” “Fine,” I said. He asked me for my birth date. I asked if I was officially under arrest, he said yes, for the two misdemeanors. At that point, I revealed my full and honest identity, told him where in the car my license was, and gave him permission to retrieve it. He got it while his partner (the second cop) interrogated my friend about my identity. Once they had all the information, they saw that everything corroborated. I asked about my friend – who wasn’t in any sort of trouble – and asked what was going to happen to her and whether they could help her get a ride home. The first cop said not to worry about it. “You’re a good guy. You’re not going to prison. I’m going to write you a citation and then you can drive her home yourself, okay?”

And that was that. They gave me a field sobriety test (which I passed – DUI wasn’t really a concern here), issued me a misdemeanor citation for carrying a concealed weapon, gave me my knife back, and left. I asked if I could use the park restroom before we left. They said sure. Neither one of us were cited for being at the park after closing time.

So… was this fair? From my perspective, we weren’t doing anything wrong. We cooperated fully, nicely, and politely up until I was asked to provide my identity. I did not want to because I felt it was an intrusion on my privacy and civil liberties. Was I wrong, either ethically or legally? Can the police, for no real() reason, require me to produce my identification? Are there laws for this sort of thing? () If the knife or park were REAL issues and not just bullshit excuses, 1) they would’ve been the focal point long before my refusal to identity myself became a problem 2) they wouldn’t have given me the knife back and 3) they would’ve cited us for the park violation too.

From their perspective, I can understand that they were just trying to do their jobs, and aside from tazer threat, they too were very kind and non-hostile through the whole process. What might’ve been a routine “The park is closed. Go home, kids”-type oral warning only turned into a bigger issue because of my refusal to identify myself. That might seem suspicious to them, but does that alone warrant the rather extreme actions they took? In total, about an hour was wasted with two police cars and at least three officers (I suppose they called for backup at some point), an arrest was made, a trip to the city jail was barely avoided, and a barely relevant citation was issued… all this because I refused to give them my full name when they asked for it? My refusal might’ve been stupid, yes – I do have a misdemeanor on my record now – but were their actions reasonable and justified?

I’m not familiar with the laws involved (where in the world are you?) but it does seem unfair. On the other hand, were I in the same situation, I’d just give them my name without hesitation and let it be with that.

I’m in Pasadena, California. And that’s exactly what my friend did – complied without incident – and she got away clean. I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t think it was fair.

I realize that, but personally, I just wouldn’t bother with making a statement there.

In the US you are required by law to identify yourself when asked to do so by a police officer.

Yep, I think you were wrong. State your name, show your ID, they do a routine run to see if there are any flags, and then you’re on your way. No harm no foul.

You were in a closed park at night. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t a public access area at that time. Cops shine the light and see something that *could * be suspicious. It wasn’t but then you still need to close it out by running the ID’s just in case something is wierdly and unexpectedly wrong. Perp politely won’t cooperate. Sheesh, whaddya gonna do? some people don’t learn. Ya know, what *if * the cops drive off and an hour later there’s a reported rape from the park, and of course it’s been logged the cops were there checking out suspicious behavior but then didn’t ID the guy. Cops would be hung out to dry and the city would get their asses sued big time.

It’s usually not a big conspiracy, rather it’s a bureaucracy. Good lesson to learn at a young age that generally it’s a lot easier to not get sucked into the grinding wheels of bureaucracy than to try extricate yourself after the fact.

Even if it isn’t “fair,” if identifying yourself by name, address, etc. as appropriate, and showing ID, if requested, will keep you from getting arrested, it seems like the smart thing to do.

I was reading that, thinking “You must be white” :p. Standing up for your civil liberties, in a closed park, at night, when you’re trying to sober up = NOT a good idea.

You were being a jerk. They bent over backwards to avoid creating a problem and you bent over backwards to create one. You won!

It is my understanding that cops can, and often do, “look the other way” so to speak, for minor but legit violations. For example, if you’re driving down the highway in a 65 MPH zone, and the officer sitting in the median clocks you at 69 or 70, he more often than not won’t pull out behind you and make a stop. However, say he clocks you at 70 and as you drive by you flip him off. He might decide it’s worth his time to see what’s up. Seems like that’s what happened here.

If you had done absolutely nothing wrong and a cop asks you for your name and hassles you, threatens you, cuffs you, etc. when you choose to not give it to him, you’ve got a right to complain*. If you’ve done something wrong (and you apparently had, in this case, even if you didn’t know about it until you were informed), it seems reasonable to not compound your problems by being difficult.

*On preview, Contrapuntal, really? Is that just “identify yourself” or “show ID”?

Thats a fact.
I’m not sure I understand why you made that into so much more than it was. These Police officers sounded reasonable which is more than you will usually get when dealing with the law.

This is my understanding as well. I always assumed that if the police are investigating a crime that they can then request identification, but again this is only my understanding. I am quite sure one of our resident lawyers will be along shortly with the definitive answer. Personally I fail to see what you feel you accomplished by doing this, other then get a record.

ISTR the US Supreme Ct has issued a series of decisions over the past decade or so, increasing police power and eroding personal privacy regarding stops/searches. Personally, I do not consider this trend “fair” or desirable, but it is the current law, which you disobey at your peril.

My recollection (which may be mistaken) is that Contrapuntal is correct - you need to identify yourself, but you do not need to produce (or carry) ID.

And your case was far from a random stop. You were guilty of a misdemeanor by being in the park after hours. Even tho that is a minor offense cops might generally let slide, it seriously decreased your “bargaining power.” Then the knife was a second strike. Not a strong position from which to take a stand for what you feel is “fair.”

If you have an ID they will ask for it. ASAIK, you are not required to produce it if you choose to simply give your name and address.

Contrapuntal et al are not 100% correct - It depends on where you’re at. The Supreme Court has ruled that laws requiring you to identify yourself to police are not unconstitutional. However, not all states have such laws in place. Obligatory wiki link

I found an article, but it’s from 2004, so it may be out of date.

(my emphasis, from here)

Brown v. Texas seems to basically say that if you’re not under suspicion of anything, the cops can’t compel you to identify yourself.

That was my understanding – that if you’re not suspected of anything, you can’t be compelled to give your name. Once they have reasonable suspicion, you are. Again, though, that cite’s from three years ago, so it wouldn’t surprise me if things have changed.

Thanks for the clarification EJ.
I imagine my misrecollection came from reading the 2004 decision within the context of my home state - IL - which has such a stat.
Not doing any research here, but the OP was more than suspected of wrongdoing …

Oh, definitely. The OP was engaged in some (trivial, IMHO) wrongdoing. I’m sure that would require him to reveal his name assuming his state has such a law. But, we’re still a little ways from a “Papers please” patrol.

It seems totally ridiculous to me that you wouldn’t want to tell these officers your name. The cops said several times you weren’t in trouble if you’d just give them your name, and yet YOU turned it into a big deal with a misdemeanor and calling for back up and handcuffs. You were acting suspiciously and just trying to “prove a point” or something… just give them your name.

What exactly were you trying to prove? The cops caught you breaking 2 laws and told you so, but followed that up by saying it wasn’t a big deal as long as they could get your name and make sure you weren’t some serial killer or kidnapper or something. Nope, no deal. Sounds like a totally weird decision on your part.

The ACLU has a little card that gives advice about what to do in various situations involving the police, I happen to have it handy (and believe it is available somewhere on their website.)

In general you do need to identify yourself, even the ACLU tends to agree with that. You were in a closed park after hours and had been drinking, the police had executed a proper stop when they came up and addressed and questioned you.

You don’t need to be “officially placed under arrest” to be required to identify yourself in such a situation. You also do not have to consent to a search of your person (which you did, oddly enough you consented to something you most certainly do not have to consent to, but refused to do something you generally do have to do), they can however pat you down if they have suspicion that you’re carrying a weapon.

So as others have said, you were wrong. When dealing with the police it’s always smart to be polite and to not do anything that might give them justification to do anything to you. You should comply pretty much with any reasonable thing they ask of you that can’t incriminate you. Telling them your name in no way hurts your situation unless you’re a fugitive. I’d advise never consenting to a search of your car or person (in some situations they can search you anyway.) Even if you don’t abuse drugs and to your knowledge haven’t committed any crimes, you never know what they could find and what could be a violation. You could ostensibly get in trouble for having legally prescribed medications out of their proper containers. Or you might have a knife that isn’t properly stored according to law.