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Can a police officer randomly stop people on the sidewalk and require them to produce identification?

Jim Ware
StarNews

MyReporter.com posed this question to Jeffrey B. Welty, assistant professor of public law and government at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government. Here’s his answer:

“No, an officer cannot randomly order a pedestrian to stop at all, much less require the pedestrian to produce identification. However, an officer, like anyone else, may ask a pedestrian to stop and talk, and may ask to see the pedestrian’s identification. A pedestrian is free to decline such a request and to go on about his or her business.”

User-contributed question by:
Dave

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5 Responses to “ Can a police officer randomly stop people on the sidewalk and require them to produce identification?”

  1. On August 4, 2010 at 9:06 pm Lee wrote:

    “Jeffrey B. Welty, assistant professor of public law and government at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government” must live in some fairy land.
    Just try telling some policeman that stops you in the street and wants to see your id no and walk on down the street. You WILL END UP IN JAIL Don’t believe me? Try it!

  2. On August 4, 2010 at 11:14 pm Tom wrote:

    Somewhat Mr. Ware. If a Police Officer possesses reasonable articulable suspcion that a person walking on the sidewalk has been recenly involved in a crime, is about to be involved in a crime, then that Officer then possesses the authority to temporarily detain and investigate. That process may also include asking for identification, and if other circumstances are present, a frisk of the outer clothing for weapons. Terry v Ohio Go take a gander. Your law professor gave a slightly liberal answer that is misleading the public, potentially putting officers in harms way. The correct answer should have started with …IT DEPENDS.

    Randomly walking down the sidewalk….NO

    Officer can articulate reasonable suspicion….YEP

  3. On August 9, 2010 at 6:31 pm Kira wrote:

    No offense Mr. Welty, but you need to get out more. A couple of years ago here in Jacksonville, most of the people slated for jury duty did not show and the Sherrif’s Deputies went into Wal Mart to hunt for replacements. They walked up to customers, asked to see their id, and if they were a resident of Onslow County, told them they had 45 minutes to report to jury duty. Maybe it is different because of what their intention was. There may be some provision of the law that allows jurisdictions to summoins jurors in this manner, but it did happen regardless.
    I don’t know if the law has changed but I remember learning back in high school in the 70s that if you were over 18 and out in public without identification then you could be arrested as a vagrant.
    Mr. Welty’s explanation may work if you are on trial and the argument is no probable cause to approach you but I know there is a law against showing false identification so I am pretty sure if a cop wants to haul you in for refeusing to show id at all then he will.

  4. On January 20, 2017 at 6:41 pm Dave wrote:

    The answer is so simple. An officer must have probable cause. You have a legal right to refuse if he can not supply probable cause to be investigating you. He can temporarily detain you, but unless he wants his organization sued, you won’t go to jail and they can only detain you for a certain amount of time. I’ve been through this. If they ask for your id, ask for probable cause. If his probable cause is “I said so” , then ask if you are being detained, if his response is no, then ask to leave. Continue cycling through these questions until he gives you probable cause. If he has no probable cause and he knows what your rights are, he will release you.



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