WHat happens if you decline to identify yourself after a crime?


So this is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.
Say you commit a crime for which the legal punishment pales in comparison to other costs (screwing a prostitute and having a wife, using drugs and being an ahlete or just commiting almost any crime and being a police officer).

So now you’re happy to take your punishment and thus atone for your crimes but you’re not happy to give your identity away and they can’t establish it in any way.

What happens to you when you stand by a judge and go to jail?
What if the crime does not warrant jail time?
Serious answers only please :slight_smile:


Ask Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens). His career ended because of this type of scenario. He at least did identify himself, though he did ask for his name to be kept private (it wasn’t).

IANAL, but as I understand it the Supreme Court has ruled that the states can force you to give your name if asked, so by just refusing to give your name you are in violation of the law (in addition to whatever else is involved). I imagine that if you continue to violate the law by refusing to give your name, they can continue to hold you for being in violation of the law.

Need answer fast? :wink:

You’re not obliged to identify yourself if you’re suspected of a crime. That’s the state’s problem. (This has nontrivial importance in the area of issuing traffic citations by photographic evidence, e.g. red light cameras.)

On the other hand, if you don’t identify yourself, the state may choose to keep you in custody until they either try you or decide to let you go. Since generally jail is an unpleasant and difficult experience, most people are happy enough to identify themselves so they have some hope of being released before trial. That is your one precious opportunity to gather evidence in your defense. Keep in mind that once you are convicted, you cannot appeal findings of fact (e.g. that the jury concluded you were the one who pulled the trigger), except when brand new and extremely persuasive evidence comes to light. Almost your only chance to be acquitted on factual grounds comes at your original trial. So you probably do not want to rely on the police to gather all the evidence. Hence the urgent need for your liberty. (And that need is recognized as a matter of English common law in the writ of habeas corpus, which basically says the state can’t hold you in custody before your conviction without a compelling reason, e.g. you’re a flight risk, a public danger, or you won’t identify yourself so they don’t know how to find you again.)

When you’re booked they get your fingerprints, so if those are on file anywhere they’ll be able to identify you. However I don’t know what happens if you refuse to submit to fingerprinting in the booking process.

By “refuse to identify” yourself, I assume you mean that you refuse to give any name? My guess is that’s where inmates/defendants named “Firstname Doe” come from and as mentioned above you won’t be released on your own recognizance or have bail set.

If you mean you give a false name, that happens all the time. What it means (in my state) is that you will be using that fake name until you are either acquitted or until you finish serving your sentence.
In either case, you may not be able to avoid having your true identity found out. If I get arrested tomorrow and refuse to give my name, not only will the arresting agency, prosecutor and court find out my true identity but my employer will also be notified of my arrest. Just as soon as they run my prints- I work for a state agency which is notified anytime prints from an arrest mach an employee’s fingerprints.


Nah I don’t need an answer fast so well informed answers are most welcomed.
I thought about being in violation of a law but you are only violating it once so they could also perhaps prosecute you for “refusing to identify yourself” or something but not indefinetly, right?

PS: I am not american but any answers are welcome.

**Carl Pham **

Yes but say that it doesn’t matter if I am kept in custody.
What happens once I have stood trial and been found guilty?
Here are two scenarios:

I am found guilty and sentenced to 30 days to jail. Am I released after 30 days? Does the time spent in custody count to this?

I am found guilty and sentenced to community service or parole?
Is it good enough for me to show up to my parole officer or my community service?

Anyone else is welcome to answer.
Interesting story about Fistname Doe :smiley:

And they can’t identify me by my fingerprints if they do not know who they belong to.

So this means you don’t have a driver’s license or state ID card, etc. And the circumstances of your arrest didn’t involve a vehicle that could be tied to you, or anything like that. So from the start we’re talking about a highly unusual situation–a person who has deliberately avoided societal connections.

And as a practical matter, the very fact that you refuse to identify yourself (or that you gave a name which has no match to your finger prints) will invite a high degree of scrutiny, especially since it’s a minor crime. The authorities will suspect that you’re connected to something much more serious (terrorism, perhaps), and they’re likely to call in the feds, who will eventually find a way to identify you–if not while you’re locked up, after you’re released. They’ll just follow you until they can figure out who you are.

As judges often have a lot of discretion during sentencing, I’d bet that you’d get the book thrown at you for not cooperating.

All that is fine.
What I am curious is the legality of it all.
It seems that the consensus here at least for common law countries (would apprecaite someone with experience in roman law) that you can decline to give information about your identity and that they can’t hold you for ever cause of it?
What about if the severity of the crime does not warrant jail time?
I think here it gets very interesting!

It would be probation, not parole. And unless it’s a felony, you won’t have a probation officer.

Keep in mind that throughout all of these proceedings you’re required to fill out and sign (under penalty of perjury) a barrage of paperwork with your name, address, etc. Every piece of that paperwork (for terms of sentencing, community service, etc.) will be handled by a different clerk who will reject it (or give it back to you) without a name and address, birth date, etc. Over and over again you’ll have to convince that clerk to process the paperwork without that information. On the other hand, if you fill in false information, then you’re facing new charges.

Oh yeah I mean probation, sorry. Thanks.
I of course refuse to sign anything as part of this scenario.

Or I will sign with an alias that I use to defend myself in court with and be completely open about it being an alias.

In Texas there is a law which requires someone to identify themselves to a police officer if the officer is acting in the course of official duty. Failure to do so could result in a charge of… you guessed it… failure to identify.
You do not have to have an id card but you must provide accurate information.

Let me give you a few examples where such actions would be warranted even from a moral standpoint of an observer. Perhaps it could spur you to further assist me in this inquiry.

In the situation of a demonstrator being handcuffed and taken into custody for disorderly conduct, a general sticker used by some police forces around the world and applied on people who they seek to disperse or discourage from further actions.

In an effort to damage this section of the state and its ability to classify and monitor the activities of the group it would thus be in the interests of those individuals “caught” to not submit to giving out their names. Obviously they would never carry their IDs when demonstrating.

Other examples would be hikers or travelers, vagabonds. People seeking to live in harmony with nature, hunting and fishing and being harassed for doing such merely because they lack the funds to buy the licenses or land required.

In general it could be of the interest of someone wishing to travel incognito who is arrested for trespassing or vagrancy to refuse to identify themselves. There are many reasons for which to travel incognito which include both good and bad. The good are for example flight from persecution, abusive parents, added life experience, meeting people who are not affected by your status or wealth, etc.

I can think of a couple of more situations but I think that with the ones mentioned previously this should suffice.

Yup I know but let us say I accept such a charge in addition to what ever other charge the officer wants to press against me.

As far as I know, yes. You’ll just have to manage to get all the paperwork processed, etc., so that, on the one hand, you satisfy all of the conditions of the outcome of your case–whatever that may be–and on the other, you don’t commit any further violations.

Not really. Effectively this is what happens all the time with a lot of homeless people who live on the street, when they first get arrested for things like drunk in public, and they decide to give a different name than their own. Often, though, they just don’t follow through with paying the fine or the terms of their probation. Their name gets in the system with a bench warrant, and then if they’re ever nabbed again, their prints will match that.

What I do think is interesting is a person refusing to be finger-printed when they’re arrested–I wonder how the jail handles that.

They obviously forcefully fingerprint you? Or wait until you have been convicted and then do so?

It’s interesting from one standpoint:
Without my name I could be naughty and ignore say my community service. Not to bright for that is probably an offense in itself but if I plan on not commiting any crimes until it is expunged from my record then it might be a wise decision depending on if I think my actions were just or not.
Hey here’s one more scenario.
Say that they suspect you of being a non-citizen of the country where you are caught. Or they just want to put some pressure on you. What can they do then? They don’t know from what other country you are from neither…!

You will be held until you are tried and your refusal to identify will be in contempt of court and you will be held (in contempt).

So I could be jailed for this crime as long or longer than for a murder? I would love to test this out just to sue the government to the highest levels. I frankly doubt they would be able to sweat the media campaign :slight_smile:

You need to look up the concept of contempt of court. You’ll be squashed like a bug and everybody will think it’s just fine.

You might also want to consider that maybe you aren’t the first person in world history to have this idea, and that perhaps the court system might be prepared for this.

" the contempt being either admitted or proved the judge or JP may imprison the offender for a maximum of one month, fine them up to GBP £2,500, or do both."