California does not have a “Stop and Identify” statute requiring you to produce identification to the police when asked. Just because police ask for your ID doesn’t mean you have to show it. Police cannot force you to show ID without just cause, so they cannot arrest you for simply refusing to identify yourself.
However, the situation in which you are asked for ID matters. You must carry your driver’s license when you operate a vehicle because you do have to show it if you are pulled over. Learn more about other scenarios when you may be asked for identification.
Getting Asked for ID Walking on the Street
If you are out on the street, in a bar, or in a public or private place, you may encounter police investigating a crime or looking for someone for questioning. If they stop you and ask for your ID but you prefer not to provide it, you can politely refuse and ask if you are free to go. If they say “yes,” then leave. If they say “no,” ask why you were stopped.
If the police believe they have probable cause to suspect you of a crime and you refuse to produce your ID, they may arrest you. If they don’t have probable cause and you refuse to provide ID, most officers will simply let you go.
Do not – under any circumstances – disrespect a police officer that has stopped you for questioning. Although you have the right to refuse an officer’s ID request, it could lead to your arrest.
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ID Request When Pulled Over by California Police
If you operate a motor vehicle in California, you should know what to expect at a traffic stop. You are required by law to present your driver’s license if you are driving and the police pull you over. If you cannot show a valid driver’s license, you are at the mercy of that officer’s discretion.
Driving without a license can be an infraction or a misdemeanor offense. You can be placed under arrest for a misdemeanor offense. This is true even if police only pulled you over to tell you a tail light was out, or something simple like that.
Do Passengers Have to Provide ID?
If you are a passenger in a car that is pulled over by police, they may ask for your ID. You are not required to provide it, but you will want to weigh your options before deciding.
If the officer has probable cause to believe you were involved in a crime, they may arrest you even without seeing your ID. If they don’t have probable cause, they will let you go. Remember to be respectful, and ask if you are free to go.
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If Arrested and Taken to the Police Station
If you are arrested or are being booked for a crime, you must provide your ID to the police. However, you are not required to answer any questions without a lawyer present. Say “I wish to remain silent, and I want to talk to a lawyer.”
Don’t discuss the case against you or your immigration status with anyone besides your defense lawyer—not even family members. Use one of your phone calls to contact a criminal defense lawyer.
Once the officer reads your Miranda Rights to you, anything you say can be used against you in court. Silence is your best defense until you have a lawyer in the room with you.
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Can You Be Arrested for Not Showing Your ID?
It’s important to note that police officers throughout the state of California have arrested people for failing to show ID when asked, and charged them with things like:
- Resisting a peace officer
- Detainment for questioning
Arresting you simply for refusing to show your ID is a wrongful arrest, but it’s still an arrest. And for some, that arrest could have immigration consequences. It could also be a problem for you if you are on probation.
While you have the right to refuse to show your ID, you have to decide if it’s worth the risk of possible arrest and a trip to the police station. If you think the police have a case of mistaken identity, handing over identification could help resolve the situation in your favor.
What Do You Need for California ID?
If a California police officer asks you for identification, this usually means your driver’s license. However, not all California residents drive. If you don’t have a driver’s license, show your state ID or any form of identification you carry.
Ideally, your ID card should include:
- A photo that looks like you
- Your full name
- Your address, school, or work location
How Long Can Police Detain You in California?
In other states, police may detain you for up to 72 hours or more. In California, you may not be detained for more than 48 hours, according to Penal Code § 825. Within this window of time, police must either charge you with a crime or release you.
Special exceptions apply if police suspect you of a serious crime. You may be held for up to 96 hours if police suspect you of murder. If you are arrested under the Terrorism Act, you could be held for 14 days.
When to Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you’ve been detained for questioning in a criminal case, or you’ve already been arrested on criminal charges, hiring an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer is your best chance at avoiding a criminal conviction. Don’t talk to the police until you talk to a lawyer.