When a police officer walks up to you and asks for identification, do you have to present it? On one hand, doing as requested could save you a lot of headaches and hassle. On the other hand, if law enforcement stops every other person, we might begin to wonder if the police aren’t just abusing the power. Danièle Watt’s story provides an interesting example of the latter.
On September 11, Danièle posted on Facebook that she had been detained and handcuffed in North Hollywood because she had been seen kissing her husband, Brian Lucas, in public. Danièle and Brian suspect that someone had reported them to the police because the interracial couple looked like a prostitute and client. When the police arrived, Daniele was on her cell phone with her father. When the officers asked for ID, Brian presented his ID but Danièle refused.
The officers forcibly handcuffed Daniele, who cut her wrist during the commotion. The police officers held Danièle in the back of the squad car until they realized Danièle had starred in the movie Django Unchained.
Do You Have to Present Police with Identification?
Can the police randomly ask people for identification? Like most legal questions, this depends on the situation. If the police stop a driver or an airline passenger, the police have the right to ask for identification. Since the police have the right to ask for a valid license when they pull over a vehicle, they also have the right to ask for proper identification at the same time. Airline passengers are a larger stretch, but courts have ruled that safety concerns (especially after 9/11) give officers the right to stop passengers for identification. Since neither driving nor flying are rights, there is less legal protection that people can rely on.
Wait, you might say, Daniele wasn’t driving or flying. She was just standing around in public when the police stopped her. Well, Daniele had every right to refuse the police request for identification. If a person isn’t engaged in a licensed activity and/or interstate travel, fourth amendment protections against unreasonable searches are stronger. In other words, police cannot search a person without a warrant or reasonable suspicion.
Since Daniele didn’t have an outstanding warrant in her name, the only way the police could demand rather than request identification was if they had a reasonable suspicion that she was doing something illegal. Currently the police department is denying the incident ever happened, despite photos to the contrary. For argument’s sake, let’s assume the police will argue (and they probably will) that they had a reasonable suspicion: they thought Danièle was a prostitute.
This is where the true value of forcing police to prove they had a reasonable suspicion comes to light. Is it reasonable to assume that a woman is a prostitute because she’s kissing a man in public? Of course not. There are plenty of alternative explanations, like the fact the “prostitute” and the man are dating or married. Aside from Danièle and Brian’s appearances, which the police can’t use because then it would be racial profiling, there was nothing distinguishing Danièle and Brian from every other couple walking the streets of LA County.
Some people might say that Daniele could have avoided this entire incident if she had merely given the police her identification when requested. The problem is that unless the police have a reason to demand identification, the police have no authority to compel that information and Daniele had every right to her privacy. The burden was not on Daniele to obey. The burden was on the police to establish that they had reasonable suspicion, which they clearly could not.
There is one thing Daniele could have done to confirm whether the police suspected she was doing something illegal. If anyone is ever stopped by police, they can always ask if they can leave. If the police say yes, then by all means walk away. If, however, the police say no and demand your identification, then you should probably present ID. They might not be able to prove their suspicion right then and there, but you can contest the charges in front of a judge and have the “suspicion” thrown out.