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Give Your Name or Go To Jail

By Richard W. Stevens

The Supreme Court’s Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial Court decision in June 2004 changed Constitutional law. The Court held that citizens have no right to remain silent when police officers ask for their names. If state or federal laws require you to give your name, then you must give your name, or face a criminal penalty.

It seems like a small thing. But consider this: forcing citizens to state their names violates their “right to remain silent.” And remember: giving a false name to federal investigators could be a felony (18 U.S. Code § 1001). Gotcha!

Your Papers, Please!

The Hiibel majority of five justices claimed that forcing citizens to give their names to police, when the citizens have not been arrested, would help police do their job. Three dissenting justices pointed out that getting a citizen’s name would do almost nothing to help the police, unless the citizen were already wanted for some other reason.

In all fairness, the Hiibel majority said that demanding a citizen’s name was proper in cases where the police already had some grounds to suspect that citizen was involved in some kind of misconduct. But there’s a hidden trap.

Suppose the police stop you and demand your name. If the state has a law requiring you to give your name, then can you stay silent? The Hiibel decision says the police can demand your name if they have a suspicion that you’re involved in a crime. But you don’t know what the police are thinking, so you don’t know if they have stopped you legally. If this police stop is illegal, then under Hiibel you might not have to give your name. But, if you refuse to answer, then the only way to discover whether you have the right to refuse is to fight in court. (Mr. Hiibel fought in three courts, including the Nevada and U.S. Supreme Courts).

Bottom line: Unless you can afford lengthy court battles, the Hiibel case authorizes laws to force you to give your name to police under any circumstances whenever you are asked. Practically speaking, nothing prevents the police from routinely checking the identification of everyone they contact.

The Hiibel decision thus places another burden upon citizens to prove their innocence. The Constitution’s Fourth and Fifth Amendments say that government agents must get evidence, probable cause, and warrants before they infringe upon individuals’ liberty. The agents cannot compel individuals to orally give evidence against themselves, i.e. the agents must gather the evidence by other means. The Hiibel decision says that now the agents can compel citizens to testify. Give your name or go to jail.

Links to Gun Owner Databases

Gun owners who think that giving their names to police is harmless must consider these three words: Gun Owner Database. The police ask your identity, you give it. In the gun owner database a name identical to yours has been flagged. Next thing you know you’re being detained or arrested, and your guns are being confiscated -- all based on the erroneous database entry. You’ll pay the cost of defending yourself -- all because you gave your name to a police officer conducting a routine name check. Even worse, if you own a firearm that is registered and later made illegal, then giving your name in a random name check could trigger a search or arrest on the spot.

Firearms In The Culture War

The Hiibel Court claimed their ruling does let not police systematically check everybody’s identification papers. But you can bet that the Supreme Court would permit routinely demanding identity or registration papers from firearms owners, especially concealed-carry permit holders. Why? Because (1) the mainstream elite culture disfavors firearms ownership and distrusts gun owners, (2) some criminals use firearms, and (3) owning and carrying firearms are now considered by many to be privileges granted by government to the people.

Gun owners would have nothing to fear if Americans cherished the Bill of Rights and deeply respected firearms ownership. As it stands today, we are just a few laws away from national homeland security identity cards, firearms registration and owner licensing.

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